The Facts on Australia’s Wars. On Anzac Day 4

•April 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment


[Part 4 of The Pure Bugle essay on Anzac Day.]

4. The Facts

Beyond its deep ambivalence and fascist potential, the other possibility for Anzac Day would be to both honour the general need to publicly mourn and feel part of a group and something larger than oneself (the religious need) and at the same time find collective, non-regressive, critically adult, and emotionally satisfying, ways of doing so. A critical adult consciousness, aware of the healthy need to both collectively mourn/belong and avoid phoney and dangerous infantile regressions, could hardly do better than to start with the facts.

The first question is: for whom, precisely, are we to mourn? The formulaic Anzac Day answer is usually something along the lines of: ‘our fallen servicemen and –women who died to keep Australia safe and free’. This propaganda is drummed into Australian schoolchildren from the earliest years. How does this popular formula accord with the historical facts?

With the laudable exception of World War Two, it doesn’t. In all its many other wars, Australia has not fought to keep Australia safe and democratic. Rather, as expressions of Australia’s willing colonial and then, after formal independence in 1901, sub-colonial or client state (or in official parlance: ‘allied’,) status, Australian armed forces have willingly, and often enthusiastically, participated in the imperial wars and ‘counter-insurgency’ interventions of the British and US empires.

These range from helping the British empire politically dominate and economically exploit various countries by killing rebelling Maoris in New Zealand (1845-72), killing Sudanese (1885-86), killing Boers (1899-1902), killing Chinese (1900-1901), killing Turks and Germans in World War I (1914-18) and killing Malayans (1948-66) to helping the US empire realize its global ambitions by killing Koreans (1950-53), Vietnamese (1965-72), Iraqis (1990-present) and Afghanis (2001-2011).

According to the Australian War Museum, the number of Australian soldiers killed in these sub-imperial ventures or wars of aggression total about 63,156 (61,516 in World War I, 1,640 in the rest, mainly in South Africa, Korea and Vietnam). The number of foreign soldiers and civilians specifically killed by these Australian participations in securing the British and US empires of course will probably never be really tallied since, to the author’s knowledge, neither the Australian War Museum nor anyone else has so far shown any real interest in doing so. One would imagine that the figure would be at least as high, and, given much higher Australian firepower in most cases, most probably considerably higher, than the number of Australian casualties.

Thus, 70,000-150,000 victims might be a quite conservative ‘guestimate’. An indication of how very great the discrepancy between Australian casualties and those of allied or enemy others could in fact be, is shown by the figures for the Gallipoli and Dardanelles campaign in 1915. While about 8,500 Australians died (many also from typhoid), so did 33,532 Allied (including British, French, New Zealand) troops and 86,692 Turks defending their homeland (R. Buchanan, SMH 1999). To my knowledge, despite later obeisance to the ‘noble Turk’, the latter figures are never much featured at Anzac Day ceremonies. It does not seem to really matter, as little as it does WHY the Anzacs were actually fighting so vigorously, namely to serve the British establishment and invade a country with which Australia itself had no quarrel.

The main point to be made here is that, with the notable and noble exception of the Pacific theatre in World War II in which Australia was under direct threat from Japanese fascist imperialism (and in which 39,648 Australians died in all), not a single one of these many other wars that killed many more non-Australians than Australians had anything to do with the actual defence of Australia against military attack and/or safeguarding Australia’s freedom from foreign domination.

The Australian military was first, and most appropriately, called the ‘Australian Imperial Force’. With the British Empire on the wane, and the US Empire on the wax, this was later changed to the ‘Australian Defence Force’.

On the statistical and historical evidence, this is a serious misnomer. Defence has only once been the reason for war. More appropriate names that should thus be debated could be the Australian Offence Force, the Australian Mercenary Force, the Australian Vassal Force, or, given the rationale of ‘we can’t defend ourselves’/‘allied insurance’ often openly admitted by the bipartisan political class, The Australian Allied Insurance Force.

The Anzac Myth and Collective Narcissism. On Anzac Day 3

•April 19, 2015 • 1 Comment

German child soldiers

[Part 3 of The Pure Bugle essay on Anzac Day. The child soldiers in the photo are of course in this case German. Note the little penises on their helmets supplementing their penis guns…]

3. The Anzac Myth, National Identity and Collective Narcissism

Anzac Day is of course more than a public ritual of mere war commemoration as common in many countries. Its structure and function is a complex one. However, the many strands of the ritual are centred around what is often even positively called the Anzac Myth, the core of a constructed Australian ‘national identity’ celebrated on Anzac Day and first consciously developed during and after World War One by Sydney Morning Herald journalist and Official War Historian C.E.W. Bean.

A succinct contemporary expression of this myth can be found in Governor-General Sir William Deane’s 1999 dawn service speeches at Anzac Cove and the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli. It is perhaps also not without significance for an understanding of the myth’s cohesive power that, like Helen Garner, Deane was no right-winger but a left-of-centre Governor General under Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating and then John Howard, one known and respected for his concerns for the Aboriginal and marginalized poor.

Deane first summarizes the myth in a fairly typical list of positive abstract values:

For Anzac is not merely about loss. It is about courage, and endurance, and duty, and love of country, and mateship, and good humour and the survival of a sense of self-worth and decency in the face of dreadful odds.

The fact that courage, endurance, duty, love of country, mateship, good humour and decency in adversity are not parochially restricted to Australian soldiers or Australians but are universal human values often displayed in many situations (and not only ‘in the face of dreadful odds’ and wars), of course does not penetrate or suit the nationalist narcissism so central to Anzac Day. To serve as core values for the construction of a ‘unique national identity’, an Australian exceptionalism, they need to be quarantined and monopolised.

Via this list the obligatory historical connection is then made to the identical values ascribed to the ancestors, specifically to the 19th century pioneers and bushmen. These are the carriers of the young colony that still – like some adolescents sent out into the world – obviously needed to be parentally ‘tested’ back ‘home’ where it counted:

These were qualities and values the pioneers had discovered in themselves […] They were tested at Gallipoli and on the ancient battlefields of Europe for the first time in the Great War.

Australians, in this proof-of-value perspective, it would seem had some kind of chip on the shoulder, some great sense of inferiority deriving, one assumes, from the derivative colonial origins, the ‘convict stain’, the historical youthfulness of culture and nationhood, the small population in an overwhelmingly vast, often hostile, continent. It seems this sense somehow needed to be ‘tested’, strenuously overcome, disproven by some ‘heroic’, ‘manly’, self-sacrificial act out in the ‘real world’, on the ‘world stage’ before the judgemental gaze of some imaginary audience of powerful nations and authority figures.

If, as in psychodynamic theory, the infant achieves primal identity through the loving gaze and unconditional love of the mother figure, then the infant settler-nation of Australia seemed to feel the need for the same admiration from the Mother Country Great Britain. In 1914 Australian men massively queued up and marched for days from all over the country to join the Australian Imperial Force and fight the British Empire’s war in Europe and the Middle East. It was the first time they had come together to do anything.

This infantile and adolescent attention seeking and collective inferiority complex (one aspect of which is actually known in Australia as the ‘cultural cringe’) would, as in another ‘young’ settler nation, the USA, seem to make up the socio-psychological explanation of the particularly strident and over-compensating form that Australian nationalism and ongoing compulsive ‘national identity-seeking’ frequently take to this day.

It is the national equivalent of the Napoleon complex or ‘little man syndrome’ also still often seen in the ‘drinking culture’ of Australian pubs or late-night streets: feeling weak or inferior, then bluster and bark loudly (‘what are you looking at!’), act aggressively, punch hard without warning. It also psychologically explains the peculiar Australian keenness to act as willing mercenaries for the imperial wars of the powerful British and US from 19th century Sudan and South Africa to Vietnam and Iraq. It is the adolescent compensatory psychology of the ultimately obedient larrikin.

The fact that Gallipoli was a military disaster then seems to, paradoxically, make it all the more suitable for heroic over-compensations. Here the spiritually ‘undefeated’ dwarf may unlock his mythic inner giant and ‘found’ a nation in obedient self-sacrifice and bloody slaughter. The thesis of the ‘Birth of Nationhood in War and Heroic Failure’ that is central to the Anzac Myth now inevitably appears.

Lacking home-grown battle sites apart from the tax riot of the Eureka Stockade and those of Aboriginal massacres, and, in a de-sacralized world of identical airports and shopping malls, perhaps even secretly envying indigenous notions of sacred sites, Turkish Gallipoli becomes another of the many Australian secular ‘icons’ like vegemite or the Hills Hoist rotary clothes line, and is simply symbolically expropriated and colonized as an Australian (read: white, male, Anglo-Celtic) ‘sacred site’:

And it [Gallipoli] was heroic even in failure. And what makes it unique is that it was where the people of Australia and New Zealand found their nationhood. […] The campaign failed but the men were not defeated. There is a crucial difference. […] While Gallipoli is Turkish land, it has become a sacred site of our nations.

Despite the official Christianity and God-references, Deane openly indulges in the blatant paganism or quasi-Shintoism of the Anzac Day belief in some sort of Valhalla of guiding warrior spirits still mystically informing the nation to this day. These ‘Anzac spirits’ are thus to be taken not only figuratively but quite literally:

They [the dead young Anzacs] are constantly with us in their and our homelands so far away. There, their spirit walks abroad. To challenge, to guide and to inspire. For as long as we remember. For as long as our nations endure.

The speech closes with another list of abstract nouns cementing in the Anzac basis of constructed ‘national identity’. The nouns then realize their own limits and we are quickly again in that special zone of Helen Garner’s ‘mysterious, nameless’, the zone of the nationalist participation mystique that is simply (Deane here citing leftist historian Manning Clark’s phrase) ‘too deep for words’. It nevertheless can be heard, albeit as a ‘whisper’, and, in a revealing and potentially threatening note of exclusion, only by the ‘true’ patriots:

We feel it in the quiet of our hearts. The sense of great sadness. Of loss. Of gratitude. Of honour. Of national identity. Of our past. Of the spirit, the depth, the meaning, and the very essence of our nations. And of the human values which those first Anzacs – and those who came after them – embodied […] And let us all be conscious of the whisper of things “too deep for words” that can be heard at Gallipoli by all who have true love of our people and our country in their hearts.

It is surely a mark of the Australian insularity and collective narcissism which Anzac Day itself celebrates that even non-right wing Anzac Day believers and ‘national identity’-forgers like Garner and Deane seem blissfully unaware of how close or even identical to other nations’ traumatic historical experience and dangerous myth-making their own notions actually are. The historical construction of the Anzac Day Myth they enthusiastically propagate could also be quite accurately described in the following fashion:

The memory of the war was refashioned into a sacred experience which provided the nation with a new depth of religious feeling, putting at its disposal ever-present saints and martyrs, places of worship, and a heritage to emulate.

The description, however, is not one of the creation of the Anzac Day myth via Charles Bean and others. It is US historian George L. Mosse’s description of the process by which the German political Right and the Nazis after 1918 created their potent, heroic and sacrificial ‘Myth of the War Experience’, the function of which was to mask the actual horrors of mass slaughter, to justify the war’s imperial purpose and ultimately to ‘legitimise bellicose nationalism’ of their own fascist kind. As an important practical expression of this bellicose nationalism and political myth-making, the Nazis, according to Mosse, made the cult of the war martyrs ‘central to their own political liturgy.’

Whatever else it may be for many uncritical, innocent or left-of-centre participants, a pagan religious ‘cult of war martyrs’ Anzac Day certainly also is. (As is its permanent architectural embodiment and Canberra’s core ‘sacred site’, the Australian War Memorial, an obligatory excursion venue for many a school class. As a ‘sacred’, ‘cult of war martyrs’ site, it is an exact Australian equivalent of the controversial Japanese Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo or the Nazi Ehrentempel for their ‘martyrs’ in Munich destroyed as part of US ‘denazification’ in 1947.)

Infantile Regression. On Anzac Day 2

•April 17, 2015 • 3 Comments

Alec Campbell 16 soldier and German boy soldier

[Part 2 of The Pure Bugle essay on Anzac Day. The World War One soldier in the photo is sixteen years old.]

2. Infantile Regression: The Fascist Potential in Anzac Day

The powers that have for centuries been engaged in enslaving the masses have made a thorough study of their psychology. They know that the people at large are like children whose despair, sorrow, and tears can be turned into joy with a little toy. And the more gorgeously the toy is dressed, the louder the colors, the more it will appeal to the million-headed child. An army and navy represents [sic] the people’s toys. (Emma Goldman, ‘Patriotism’)

One possibility for apparently resolving those ‘stuck, unfulfilled emotions’ frustrated by a phoney Anzac Day is to prolong the unconscious infantile longing in some form of infantile release. This would in fact seem to be the actual implicit trajectory of Helen Garner’s article (cf. previous blog). She stops short of explicitly saying so, but the logical consequence of suffering from a lack of ‘pure bugles’ and childhood fervour would be to have more ‘pure bugles’ and childhood fervour, i.e. even more flag-waving, fervent schoolchild anthem-singing and solemn soldiers and considerably less cheesy MCs and flagrant show biz. This would necessarily take on an even more hyper-patriotic form, shading off into public displays of an outright mystic nationalism inevitably centred on the heroisation of sacrifice, obedience and the military. The inherent momentum of more ‘pure bugles’ and national fervour would then be very hard to differentiate from core ideological elements of fascism sans phrase.

President G.W. Bush and Prime Minister Howard were two right-wing, democratically elected leaders prone to cleverly staging just such nationalistic events and continually emphasizing – within the handy context of the so-called ‘war on terror’ they themselves imperially stimulated ‒ the military. The staged nationalism of this ‘strong leader’ PR transparently increases their own ideological hegemony, poll ratings and mass electoral base. Social democrat leaders like Rudd, Gillard or Obama also frequently pop off to war zones and use the military as useful PR backdrops for domestic media consumption, especially when their poll ratings are low.

The psychologically regressive, infantile part of this statist and nationalist unification-from-above lies mainly in its complete unconsciousness. Participants in, and viewers of, such mass spectacles are implicitly asked to leave their adult critical faculties at home and simply regress to the warm collective feelings of participation mystique in the constructed mythology of The (One) Nation. On Anzac Day and beyond, this mythology is explicitly centred on War, with its inherently right-wing sub-themes of Sacrifice, Blood, Loyalty, Heroes, The Leader as War Commander, Our Great Nation Über Alles… With such themes, we are now firmly in the socio-psychological territory of classical fascism. Although we are as yet far from a state of true fascism in our post-liberal societies, theories developed to help explain the latter’s psychological mass appeal may also help explain some of the current appeal of Anzac Day in Australia and its latent fascist potential.

Beginning with Wilhelm Reich’s early (1935) Mass Psychology of Fascism, many critical social psychologies of classical 20th century fascism have stressed the key regressive element in the fascist psychological appeal. Engaged liberal historian Lewis Mumford, writing around the same time, writes of fascism as ‘a means of keeping mankind in diapers’ and as ‘the way of regression’ incarnating the ‘infantile illusions of power that the baby feels in its crib when, by bawling loudly, it achieves magical results.’; in his view, fascism ‘therefore calls to those who have not yet emerged from infantilism and to those who would like speedily to return to it: it is the way of regression.’ Like war itself, the nationalist and militarist rituals and mythologies that ground classical fascism would seem to derive much of their appeal from the fact that they are compensatory death cults that both provide psychological release from over-layered everyday pressures and incorporate ‘a throw-back to an infantile psychal [sic] pattern.’ How is this to be understood?

Frankfurt School philosopher and social critic T.W. Adorno, for example, views the strong identification with the in-group that occurs in mass gatherings of this kind to be a form of compensatory ‘collective narcissism’. This term is meant to describe a psycho-social phenomenon in which weak or socially infantilised, narcissistic egos (resulting mainly from both invalidating child-rearing practices and the ongoing experience of social powerlessness in industrial-capitalist mass society) seek compensatory identification with seemingly all-powerful and self-inflated collectives and institutions or leaders that, ironically, mirror the weak, narcissistic egos.

Summarising the literature, political scientist Frank Gress underlines the character of fascism as a ‘normal pathology’ of modern capitalism and democratic industrial societies. Like war, fascism is no alien visitor from another planet and – despite (or because of?) its sometime atavisms ‒ no wild aberration from modern ‘business as usual’. It is in fact an inherent and constantly latent feature of modern industrial-capitalist societies. Both fascist collectivism-from-above and its close technological twin, mechanised warfare, are but the shadow sides of both capitalist freedom and individualism on the one hand and industrial-capitalist routine, regimentation and pervasive boredom on the other.

Culturally, capitalism is economic and cultural individualism writ large. Since the Renaissance and the protestant Reformation the corresponding ideal of mature independence has been increasingly seen as defining the modern adult individual, a product also of the increasingly smaller and more isolated nuclear family, literacy and urbanisation. However, the shadow side of this ideal of mature adult independence and personal freedom is that it is itself gained at the large social and psychological cost of massive uprooting and alienation from the human need for the traditional small kin and peer group.

Modern individualism is thus both liberation and a product and expression of many stresses and losses: the loss of land, extended family clan and community, of collective identity and traditional (religious) structures of meaning as well as the inherent stresses and anxieties of modern urban life, expropriation and loss of control over one’s work, the increasing dependence on inherently insecure wage labour and exploitative and regimented factory work, the necessary social competitiveness at the expense of others, the social isolation and powerlessness.

Thus all these over-layered stresses and losses, as well as the ongoing and increasingly rapid social and psychological changes that a constantly self-revolutionizing capitalist system obliges its members to experience (Alvin Toffler’s ‘future shock’) – all these manifold systemic pressures and constraints may often lead to widespread feelings of massive insecurity, alienation, depression, anxiety and fear. These often chronic feelings may then at times become socially more acute and seek some form of cathartic release.

This usually happens under certain historical conditions: increasing social stresses and traumatic crises like economic depression, rapid social change, mass unemployment, social marginalisation, perceived national ‘shame’, the threat of war etc. All these social pressures, anxieties and the need for release may accumulate to such a degree that large sectors of the population may ‘find it all too much’. They may then be strongly tempted to give up whatever level of mature independent identity and rational understanding they have achieved and regress to the seeming security of more pre-modern and infantile states. Like frightened and insecure children, they then seek strong parental (mostly father) figures to provide them with some sense of direction, meaning and security. Some will find these infantile needs met in various kinds of authoritarian parties (including leftist ones), cults or fundamentalist sects. On a mass scale, war and fascism, both explicitly cults of death, have often provided such parental and ‘charismatic’ figures.

In the totalitarian forties, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm analysed this phenomenon – in a similar way to his Frankfurt School colleague T.W. Adorno ‒ as a ‘fear of freedom’. If adult ego identity is weak, and the daily frustrations of life in capitalism strong, one may at some point find oneself longing for and seeking a ‘pseudo-symbiosis’ or ‘oneness’ with Power as expressed in the ‘Nation’ and/or the ‘Leader’. This projective pseudo-symbiosis is regressive as it is modelled on the early narcissistic symbiosis or infantile primary bonds with one’s parents. It is unconsciously intended to gain or re-gain a sense of security and vicariously achieve, or at least participate in, some of the power one feels one lacks.

This longing for regressive ‘oneness’ may, in Fromm’s view, furthermore contain, in classical psychoanalytical terms, sado-masochistic elements. There may be both a masochism of subservience and self-sacrifice to Power, Nation, Duty, the Leader etc. as well as a sadism of incorporated Power, a wish for power-over-others and thus aggressive need for fictional enemies and ‘inferior’ scapegoats. In current Anzac Day rituals the masochistic element would seem to be dominant, but even resurgent forms of popular sadism can be seen emerging in flag waving ‘wog-bashing’ events in which Muslims have become the latest scapegoats for sadist projections on the part of sections of the Anglo-Celtic working classes (Cronulla riots 2005, current Reclaim Australia movement).

Socio-psychologically, Anzac Day can perhaps be read as an annual unconscious replay (or Freudian ‘repetition compulsion’) of the nationalistic emotional release experienced by many in Australia and Europe upon outbreak of ‘The Great War’ in August 1914. The mass delusion of temporary emotional release is eternalized, as it were. As then, so on each Anzac Day, it would seem that the sordid everyday of workaday subservient routine and anxiety, of banality and boredom could suddenly be left behind in the high drama of tragic sacrifice that underlies much primitive religious ritual. Lewis Mumford captures the ironies of the industrialised atavism of modern warfare, which are also those of the fascist appeal:

[…] the action has the significance of high drama. And while warfare is one of the principal sources of mechanism, and its drill and regimentation ate the very pattern of old-style industrial effort, it provides, far more than the sport-field, the necessary compensations to this routine. The preparation of the soldier, the parade, the smartness and polish of the equipment and uniform, the precise movement of large bodies of men, the blare of bugles, the punctuation of drums, the rhythm of the march, and then, in actual battle itself, the final explosion of effort in the bombardment and the charge, lend an esthetic and moral grandeur to the whole performance. The death or maiming of the body gives the drama the element of tragic sacrifice, like that which underlies so many primitive religious rituals: the effort is sanctified and intensified by the scale of the holocaust.

Thus war breaks the tedium of a mechanized society and relieves it from the pettiness and prudence of its daily efforts, by concentrating to their last degree both the mechanization of the means of production and the countering vigour of desperate vital outbursts. War sanctions the utmost exhibition of the primitive at the same time as it deifies the mechanical.

In war, as on Anzac Day, it would seem the cold isolation and grey alienation of daily life in industrial society can be left behind in the warm womb of the nation. The competitive individualism and self-seeking rat race of capitalist society can be left behind in military collectivism, friendly cooperation and heroic mateship. Diffuse systemic and infantile aggressions can be focussed and re-directed to a specific, collectively demonised and hated external enemy (e.g. terrorists). Capitalist amorality and pervasive meaninglessness can be left behind in the high moral calling of the just cause (‘freedom’, ‘justice’, ‘our way of life’, ‘the survival of the race/nation’, ‘the defence of our women and children’, ‘peace keeping’ etc. etc.).

Thus, with the critical ear of adult consciousness, the sound of Garner’s ‘pure bugle’ at Anzac Day can also be heard in an ambivalent (and thus of course rather ‘impure’) way. The bugle and Anzac Day may be heard as both conscious (adult) elegy for the fallen dead and as an unconscious (infantile) celebration of the ‘oneness’ realised in the death cult of obedient cannon fodder.

Thus, rather than merely expressing elegiac and mature (i.e. rational and conscious) forms of public mourning, the current forms, rituals and constructed myth of Anzac Day all very easily lend themselves to such unconscious infantilism and thus to a right-wing hegemony over hearts and minds. The political Right (as well as the authoritarian Communist Left) in all countries has always had an interest in vigorously unconscious celebrations of regressive pseudo-symbiosis, glorifications of war and the heroic male warrior and obedient, unquestioning sacrifice for tribe, nation and State.

Without in any way denying that the ambivalences of Anzac Day can have many different personal meanings for different people (this possible pluralism of interpretation in fact aiding its general popularity), such a quintessentially right-wing format may be seen as Anzac Day’s main official function for ruling elites and the ritual expression of its psychological fascist potential. Psychologically, the heteronomies of war, militarism, authoritarian and fascist systems all need psychologically arrested infants and adolescents of both sexes and the current rituals and myths of Anzac Day directly contribute to producing them.

The Pure Bugle. On Anzac Day 1

•April 16, 2015 • 3 Comments

Hyde Park Memorial sculpture

[An essay in five parts on the popular phenomenon of Anzac Day in Australia, now hotting up for the centenary at the end of this month. The media here are full of it. Endnotes have been left out. The photo is from the ghastly 1930s Anzac Hyde Park memorial in Sydney, now recently also graced by phallic 7 metre bullets commemorating fallen Aboriginal soldiers in Australia’s armies.]

The Pure Bugle. On the Ambivalence of Anzac Day


Anzac Day has again taken on a larger social relevance in contemporary Australia. As such, it is of course a complex, many-layered historical, social and psychological phenomenon. While the right wing and conservatively inclined stress its ‘nation-forming’ and military aspects, many Australians with left-of-centre political opinions would seem to attend Anzac Day ceremonies with vague, unspecified notions of ‘remembering those who died for their country’ and the ‘horrors of war’.

In attempting to cast some light on such complex phenomena, there is always the danger of reductionist, simplistic interpretations that do not do justice to their historical, social and psychological complexity. Nevertheless, the opposite danger is also given: to simply shy away from any attempt and leave a phenomenon like Anzac Day rationally unanalysed as a national holy cow or irrational taboo zone ‘too deep for words’ (progressive historian Manning Clark), an ersatz religion jealously guarded and used by its right wing and nationalist defenders.

A short essay in rational taboo-analysis such as this cannot, of course, attempt to do full justice to the complexity of Anzac Day. Its aim can thus only be to provoke further democratic discussion by sketching rather than elaborating certain perhaps under-represented perspectives. The main perspective taken is one limited to text analysis and critical social and psychoanalytical theory. Such a framing also implies that the personal and political bias in this essay should perhaps also be briefly made explicit. It is that of an ‘internal outsider’ constitutionally wary of all group think and official ideologies.

My part German/part Russian background and German tertiary education, layered over an Australian childhood and youth, form a specific historical and intellectual context for an initial feeling of, shall we say, ‘strong skepticism’ towards the Anzac Day phenomenon. Any form of nationalism does not sit well with a genetic and gut-level cosmopolitanism. It is my hope, however, that the almost ‘anthropological’ outsider view that seems to be the lot of the bilingual repeat-migrant may, however, be of some possible use to Australian and other ‘tribal insiders’ also grappling with the phenomenon in some way.

The perspective taken here is also openly that of the cosmopolitan Enlightenment and critical, anti-authoritarian theory. This perspective is grounded in a radically democratic tacit assumption: namely, that a free, democratic, socially just and rationally organised society cannot be one dominated either by ruling elites and their hegemonial ideologies or by corresponding masses of blind and obedient followers. At the same time, this perspective may also freely acknowledge that such a truly democratic society needs to fulfil a deep human need for some sort of spiritual meaning and vision that transcends daily routine, material concerns and politics.

It is the main thesis of this essay that Anzac Day seems to do this today for many Australians in ways that are, however, aesthetically and morally inauthentic, psychologically regressive and ultimately politically dangerous in their militaristic and anti-democratic potentials.

1. The Fervent Child

Under the neoliberal-conservative Howard government ten years ago the largest public turnouts at Anzac Day services ever seen in Australia took place. Over 220,000 people attended the Sydney service. Well-known Australian author Helen Garner reflected on her experiences at that year’s Anzac Day dawn service at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. The article was published under the heading ‘Cheesy, empty feeling, with the dawn service celebrated in the wrong key’ in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 26th (p. 13).

The article is interesting because it may capture some of the common religious or psycho-spiritual need behind the Anzac Day phenomenon that less articulate participants would probably find considerably harder putting into words. It is precisely the coming to some kind of understanding of this common need that may be a useful exercise for those of us concerned with the generally more nationalist, authoritarian, post-liberal, right-wing to ‘friendly fascist’ direction that Australian society and other liberal Western societies seem to be more strongly heading in since at least September 11, 2001 and the so-called ‘war on terrorism’.

Garner starts off by describing the state she and others are in as they assemble for the dawn service. She uses words and phrases like “exciting”, “low thrilled voice”, strangers exchanging “meaningful glances” and “half-smiles”, “soft darkness”, no one laughing, no shouting, no cracking jokes. She modestly and non-ideologically describes the collective intention as “we were going to pay our respects to the dead.”

She then describes a sudden break, a jarring phoney note. The far-off and invisible MC is talking in a “glossy”, “patronising”, “cheesily confidential”, “daytime TV quality” voice. He sounds “so deeply wrong” as he preaches a “hackneyed”, “hollow” sentiment to the children about how “something called the Anzac spirit would get them through the difficulties of their lives.” He then reads out the expected lines about “they shall not grow old…etc” and two cadets read out something or other in “stilted tones, self-conscious, terribly sincere.” The crowd of course just endures it all in “stoic silence.”

However, all this showy phoniness is apparently dispersed when the bugler plays The Last Post, a Welsh choir sings with a brass band (we are lifted upwards again when their voices “swelled grandly”) and exciting gunfire roars after each verse of the song. At this point in the proceedings Garner comes to a kind of climactic moment: two little girls near her are described as exchanging “thrilled glances”, the crowd stands in silence “thick as felt”, “patiently, respectfully, hopefully” and Garner notes that “we were waiting for something, the mysterious, nameless thing we had come for.” ‘Mysterious’ expectations of, presumably, some kind of release, are stretched to breaking point.

Alas, it is not to be. Again there is betrayal by the MC who on this occasion is very obviously not the bringer of that undefined, “mysterious, nameless” something. It is a contest between two irreconcilable opposing principles. His voice, “with its cosily elocuted intonation, betrayed the pure cry of the bugle.” We are presented with an apparent contradiction: the pure unsullied mysticism of the military bugle hinting at some “mysterious, nameless” versus the mundane commercial and phoney reality of a TV show, the archetype (one imagines) of The Soldier/Hero/Sacrifice versus McDisneyworld.

And the latter, of course, wins. It is the ‘betrayal’ that infuriates her. Rage against the Spectacle. For Garner, the stage-crafted manipulations, all the usual the ‘stilted’, ‘hollow’ and ‘hackneyed’ phoniness do not – as a critical perspective would maintain ‒ reveal the actual truth of the public Anzac day phenomenon but somehow ‘betray’, distort or cover up some purer collective need for the mysterious, the nameless.

The mysterious and nameless is then named. In her view, the people there

…weren’t there to be entertained, to be passive consumers of a professionally produced show. We were not just spectators. We were here to take part in something. We had come as Australians, as each other’s countrymen and countrywomen – as citizens.

The implied psycho-dynamics of these illuminating words are fascinating. Garner here seems to be demanding a logical impossibility, an oxymoron as mystical as the common equation of ‘democracy’ with the filling-in of a voting ticket. She is indeed demanding something truly ‘mysterious’: an active spectatorship, as it were, a passive ‘taking part in something’ organized and orchestrated by others. She thirsts for the logical contradiction of a passively consuming expression of ‘citizenship’. She would seem to want the religious tremor of ritual presumably without the divinity, the participation mystique of the warm crowd of strangers vicariously united in the viewing of a spectacle.

How can this participation mystique be rationally understood? According to psychoanalytical group and crowd psychology, the psychological mechanisms that here come into play can roughly be understood in the following way. Crowd members feel linked by something both within and outside themselves. They unconsciously split off certain elements inside themselves that they then project onto some external objects, people, rituals or symbols (flags, places, monuments, ritual objects, songs, leaders, soldiers). In Manichean fashion, these elements can be either ‘good’ (great, heroic, saintly, powerful, sexy etc, often father figures) or ‘bad’ (evil, cowardly, treacherous, murderous, perverse etc). What they then perceive and feel outside, inside and between themselves are unconsciously disowned aspects of their own split-off, dissociated and projected selves. Because this dissociating and projecting is unconsciously (‘mysteriously’) done, the feelings that arise may include strong and ‘nameless’ feelings of ‘mystery.’ And because this happens among many people as a collective event focussing collective energies, the projection may feel very powerful and overwhelming indeed.

Entranced by such potential powers and (willingly?) ignorant of or oblivious to such unconscious mechanisms, Garner simply wants the experience of ‘pre-TV’ patriotism, the ‘pure bugle’. She does not want phoney sentiments, i.e. she does not want show biz, show biz ratings or corporate Anzac Cove clean-up sponsorships, Target ‘Anzac swags’ and Woolworths’ ‘Fresh in Our Memory’ ads. Living as we do in the so-called ‘post-modern’ world of the generalised total Spectacle, this is of course a regressive or ‘reactionary’ wish in the literal sense of wishing to turn the historical clock back to the modern or pre-modern.

Garner in fact closes her piece by making few bones about the regressive or ‘reactionary’ character of her, and, by implication, the rest of the crowd’s, Anzac Day needs. The phoney MC urges the participants to sing the national anthem. Of course, this turns out to be just more phoniness because, as we know all too well, the anthem, chosen by popular majority in 1984 over the more anti-authoritarian Waltzing Matilda, is full of the “clumsy poeticisms and embarrassing claims” suited to an officious nationalism and, to add insult to injury, here pitched in an awkward key. Garner’s need is for something more honestly and consciously infantile than the infamously phoney national anthem. She longs for the pure-as-a-bugle, stand-at-attention and hands-on-hearts, naively emotional patriotism of her schooldays (or at least as she would choose to remember them):

We needed to sing songs we had known since we were children, songs we shouted in our playgrounds, standing in lines on the asphalt with our hands on our hearts and tears in our eyes. What happened to all our hymns? How did we lose Jerusalem? Vow to Thee, My Country? O Valiant Hearts? Why couldn’t we raise our voices and sing together in solemnity, thousands of us, men and women and children, unabashed?

Garner thus associates all this lost, patriotic, public, ‘unabashed’ emotion with childhood. She longs for the supposed purity of the schoolyard assembly which her nostalgia romantically constructs as one of authentic emotional patriotism, including the strangely American gesture of heart-holding (one wonders where she went to school and why the ‘shouting’ of songs, hands-on-hearts and tears-in-eyes should have been so thoroughly absent from one’s own school assemblies).

As in a psycho-therapeutic process, a closer dealing with adult and conscious needs has thus finally led her text to the discovery of underlying infantile unconscious motivations or needs. In the end she now seems to have worked her way to a half-conscious realisation that she is expressing more of a deep-felt need to grieve for a lost emotionality and supposed innocence rather than any need to “pay respects” to some dead which she initially assured us was the (conscious) reason for attending the Anzac Day service.

Children are mentioned five times in this article. Is it possible that Garner’s heartfelt need to collectively regress to childhood (or a constructed childhood) is also expressing some collective need? That the secret (half- or unconscious) appeal of Anzac Day to so many (like Lady Di’s funeral or the Bali bombing commemorations) lies less in what is consciously said (“respect for the dead”, “horrors of war”, “heroic sacrifices for our freedom”, “beautiful person” etc) and more in what is unconsciously expressed: a need to mourn one’s own lost innocence as well as the loss of public emotionality and felt community relationships in bureaucratic mass society? Forms of personal and collective grief and loss probably often intermingle and fuse in subtle and unconscious ways. Unconscious mourning for the perceived losses and abandonments of infancy and childhood may invisibly fuel public mourning about quite other events.

The public ‘work’ of mourning (German: Trauerarbeit) at official ceremonies like Anzac Day could thus be overlain with many levels and complex aspects of unacknowledged grief. Given the official limitations on, and manipulation of, acceptable topics for public mourning, it is possible to speculate that there may even be a general unconscious need to mourn larger issues simmering away in the collective unconscious. Issues like the historical shadows of genocide in the past and present, at home and abroad. Like the whole ecological and social disaster happening on and to the planet and its people. Like one’s collusion or at least general disengagement and abdication from attempting to prevent that disaster and collectively institute a rational society. (Personally expressing this need in a speech at a public rally in Germany in 1986 during the Chernobyl catastrophe I was surprised at the public resonance it occasioned.)

Garner ends her article with the resigned insight that her desired regression to the ‘pure bugle’ of childhood’s patriotism is as historically impossible as abolishing TV and its public spectacles: “It was too late in history. We turned and set out homewards, with our emotions still aching in our throats.” So what to do with that aching, those stuck, unfulfilled emotions? There would seem to be two theoretical possibilities, one ‘infantile’, one ‘adult’: a collective regression and national narcissism or some form of ‘mature mourning’ and release.

Fascist Masses in Germany 1933

•April 14, 2015 • 4 Comments


[This is a text from my essay series ‘The Many Deaths of Socialism’. Endnotes have been omitted. Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions regarding its relevance, or lack thereof, to contemporary developments. Image: Nazi Reichsparteitag 1935.]

Another Death of Socialism: Fascist Masses in Germany 1933

Hitler legally came to power in Germany on the 30th of January 1933. He did not destroy the democratic Weimar Republic so much as cleverly benefit from its internal collapse. Almost all relevant political forces from right to liberal and left had long deserted the ossified and moribund system and sought various explicitly authoritarian solutions to its systemic crises. It has been most plausibly argued that the prime responsibility for the National Socialist accession to power thus lay primarily with the conservative elites who attempted to use Hitler as the populist guarantor of a right-wing authoritarian regime that, based on the army and the President, sought to wind back the socially progressive consequences of the 1918 November Revolution and the lost war and liberate capitalists and the wealthy from the irritating demands of the organised workers.

Yet what of these workers themselves? The totally demoralizing sectarian warfare and twin defeats of both the Russian and German revolutions and class struggles in 1917-23, the shattering of all (however vague) socialist hope, the ensuing bitter infighting, bureaucratic rigidifying and usual absurd sectarianism of the left, the temporary consolidations of capitalism between 1924 and the Great Crash of 1929 and ensuing massive unemployment ‒ all this meant that by 1933 any of the minimal sparks of autonomous, self-organizing or anti-authoritarian spirit some small sections of the German working class had shown in 1917-18 now no longer existed at all. Exhaustion and total disillusion ruled. Erich Fromm summarised the situation of the German working class just before Hitler’s rise to power as follows:

By the beginning of 1930 the fruits of its initial victories [in 1918, P. L-N] were almost completely destroyed and the result was a deep feeling of resignation, of disbelief in their leaders, of doubt about the value of any kind of political organization and political activity. They still remained members of their respective parties and, consciously, continued to believe in their political doctrines; but deep within themselves many had given up any hope in the effectiveness of political action.

However, at this time there may also have been, on the other hand, a brief window of opportunity for progressive change that might have prevented the fascist ‘solution’. For there apparently was at this time massive popular bitterness and even hatred among both workers and middle classes in regard to the disastrous social impacts of the Great Crash, with blame being widely sheeted home to the state and its political parties, top level bureaucrats, corrupt financial speculators and capitalists. Indeed, in the view of some progressives at the time, all the elements of a great ‘popular’ revolution against the existing system were in fact present in Germany in 1929-30.

Again, as in 1918 and then possibly again in the hyper-inflation period of 1923, this mass bitterness and willingness for some degree of possibly more radical change found neither self-active mass expression nor did the working class parties at all know what to do with this both disillusioned and critical zeitgeist. Another historical opportunity was missed. Filling the political vacuum, the almost inevitable result was the explosive growth of Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party that was widely seen as ‘anti-system’ and, to a degree, even ‘anti-capitalist’.

In 1929-33, the German working class was, as before the 1918 revolution, again passively organised in huge bureaucratic organizations over which it had little control. This time mainly in not one but two authoritarian and hierarchical political parties in the social democratic tradition, the Social-democrats (SPD) and Communists (KPD), and in the similarly structured trade unions. This disempowered practical passivity found its supporting theoretical expression in the bureaucratic and statist ideology still prevailing in both these sections of the working class movement: a social democratic ideology of vulgarized, economistic, positivist and dogmatic Marxism that believed in a fatalist ‘theory of collapse’ (Zusammenbruchstheorie), i.e. in so-called ‘objective laws of history’ that ‘scientifically’ guaranteed the mechanical ‘inevitability’ of capitalist collapse and ‘socialist victory’.

In practice, the choice between SPD and KPD thus amounted to a ‘left wing’ choice between the former’s helpless and self-defeating attempts to stabilize a conspicuously failing liberal capitalism and defunct parliamentarianism that not even the bourgeoisie was interested in saving or the latter’s obviously even worse totalitarian state capitalism directed by the new Bolshevik dictators in Moscow. Something thus had to fill the social and political vacuum on the left (as well as in the traditional middle and right). That something was National Socialism.

Italian fascism and German National Socialism were extreme right-wing movements that had learned a lot from Lenin and Bolshevism (Mussolini had even been a syndicalist socialist himself). In cleverly and flexibly co-opting many symbolic (red flag, raised arm, uniform) and even socially seemingly egalitarian aspects of authoritarian socialism, they seemed to pose a statist, macho and militarist way out for the post-world war crises of liberal capitalism without any mass empowerment and thus without any changes in the fundamentals of capitalist property relations.

Fascism initially contained right and left wings and could thus, for a time, seem to flexibly and simultaneously represent both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary interests. With its populist, purposely opportunist and ‘vague, all-embracing ideology – anti-modern, anti-capitalist, anti-communist, racialist, nationalist (völkisch) – it could mean all things to all people.’ Fascism’s main enemy ‒ besides a vaguely defined financial ‘plutocracy’ and (in Hitler’s case) ‘the Jews’ ‒ was the ‘Bolshevism’ and ‘Marxism’ of the mainstream working class movement. The latter target of course made fascism potentially interesting for ruling elites in crisis, although the initial ‘socialist’ elements (first internally sidelined and then finally murderously eliminated by Hitler in the so-called Röhm-Putsch of 1934) caused some concern.

And how did the German working class movement react to this overt fascist threat to its very existence? When Hitler took over explicit dictatorial power through the Ermächtigungsgesetz of March 1933 the reaction of the working class movement was nil.

There was no resistance at all. There were no strikes, no calls for resistance, no general strike (as there had still very successfully been during the right-wing Kapp Putsch in 1920). The SPD believed in strict legality and that Hitler would merely be a transitional chancellor while the KPD saw Hitler as a mere ‘counter-revolutionary episode’ that would also pass and indeed ultimately strengthen the communist cause. According to Hans Werner Richter (a later co-founder of the post-war influential writers’ group Gruppe 47 and a young member of the KPD at the time), young organised workers obediently waited for party orders to arm themselves and engage in revolutionary struggle. Those orders never came. As a result, these militant workers were thus profoundly disillusioned and became demoralized, fearful, fatalistic. What is more, according to Richter, there was then no solidarity in struggle, but only a ‘solidarity’ of flight and helplessness as party comrades were arrested or fled the country. Having himself fled to France as a political refugee, Richter then tragically found even less solidarity among French party comrades: in a tragi-ironic repeat of August 1914 on another level, ‘proletarian internationalism was found to be a fallacy.’

The fascist coup de grace and the symbolic final defeat of the German Old Left then came on the day of celebration of the international working class movement, on May Day 1933. The Nazis renamed the day the ‘Holiday of National Labour’ (Feiertag der nationalen Arbeit). Countless millions marched and celebrated throughout the new (Third) Reich. In what was probably Germany’s largest ever mass gathering, hundreds of thousands participated in the central event in the capital, on the Templehofer Feld in Berlin.

In accustomed fashion, the leaders of the trade union movement again ‘patriotically’ displayed their usual pragmatic, opportunistic, cooperative spirit and active support for the ruling, now fascist, elites by actually ordering their members to participate in Hitler’s absurd May Day spectacle. As anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker, himself a witness, summarised:

Only in Germany was it possible that a horde of barbarians could perpetrate the most disgusting violence on a people without occasioning even an attempt at resistance.

Thus history records what may be some of the ultimate images of socialist defeat: social democratic and communist trade union members marched alongside the long Nazi columns of Hitler Youth, SS and SA, the latter rhythmically shouting and hysterically singing their hate-filled songs about breaking all their opponents’ bones and having Jewish blood gushing from their knives. Many had merely exchanged their uniforms: Richter, ‘magically drawn by the mass ecstasy of the victors’, was also there and, fearful lest he be recognized, reports that he saw dozens of old Communist Party comrades and a whole column of Communist Youth now marching in brown shirts adorned with the emblem of the Hitler Youth. Hitler’s mass following was indeed drawn from all classes and strata, including the working class.

Richter’s Marxist belief in so-called ‘proletarian class consciousness’ was irrevocably shattered and he describes the feelings after this traumatic first of May as ‘numbness, fear, hopelessness.’ Perhaps some of these feelings have endured in subtle ways…

Like many other critical thinkers on the German left deeply disenchanted with the organized party left (e.g. Karl Korsch, Otto Rühle, Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Ernst Bloch, Rudolf Rocker), Richter put the left’s total defeat by fascism down to Marxist party dogmatism, rationalism and economism and its failure to reflect on the subjective, psychological, irrational elements in ‘the masses’. The problem was not just German. George Orwell warned of similar hang-ups in English party socialists of the 1930s:

With their eyes glued to economic facts, they have proceeded on the assumption that man has no soul, and explicitly or implicitly they have set up the goal of a materialistic Utopia. As a result Fascism has been able to play upon every instinct that revolts against hedonism and a cheap conception of ‘progress’. […] Socialism, at least in this island, does not smell any longer of revolution and the overthrow of tyrants; it smells of crankishness, machine-worship, and the stupid cult of Russia. Unless you can remove that smell, and very rapidly, Fascism may win.

On the day following the Templehofer Feld debacle, the Nazi SA and SS occupied the union offices. On the evening of the 2nd of May the German free trade unions ceased to exist. Social-democratic, Socialist and Communist leaders either fled into exile, went underground or were soon rounded up by the Nazis and put into concentration camps. Hitler had almost painlessly achieved one of his main goals: the (numerically at least) once mighty working class movement in Germany had been effectively eradicated without any significant resistance.

Frankfurt School psychoanalyst Erich Fromm explains this general lack of leftist and working class resistance, this unwillingness to fight for professed ideas when it came to the crunch, as a failure of historically formed character dispositions. In his view, socialist notions, even when intellectually adhered to, were not really emotionally anchored in German workers’ psyches. As, for the most part, ‘authoritarian characters’, they had ‘a deep-seated respect and longing for established authority’; thus

The emphasis of socialism on individual independence versus authority, on solidarity versus individualistic seclusion, was not what many of these workers really wanted on the basis of their personality structure.

(And, in this sense, was not this psychological discrepancy and authoritarianism in 1933 merely a repeat and result of the quick collapse of socialist internationalism in August 1914, and for the same psycho-historical reasons?)


•April 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

0.01 % yacht with garage by RCN


I believe

in empowering my proactive vision,
my performance motivation,
achieving my optimum positive
thinking potential to progress
my goals. Absolutely.

I believe

the bottom line is competitive
efficiency in terms of my
benchmark current account
deficit outcomes. Absolutely.

I believe

in empowering my bottom line
vision proactively motivating
my competitive potential
in terms of achieving my
benchmark goal performance.

I believe

in potential line bottoms
envisioning proactive benches
on current account progress
in terms of goal outcome deficits.

I believe


•March 29, 2015 • 1 Comment

cosmic egg


the universe has been mapped in hi res
technicolour, it’s really an opal shaped
like a tai chi or an egg on its side, with
an Axis of Evil between the hot/cold bits

& a bruise a couple of trillion light-year
galaxies across maybe caused by a collision
with another universe while both weren’t
watching or texting they’d be home late.

Funny thing, the universe is finite as
any map of Terra Incognita, ends at an edge
you can fall off into white papery nothing

which must be something other than the
universe unless it is the other universe
that wasn’t watching, off with the frigging



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