Demons and Democrats: 1950s Labor at the Crossroads, by Gavan Duffy

Demons and Democrats: 1950s Labor at the Crossroads, by Gavan Duffy

Anthony Cappello

The Movement and its goal of a just society based on Christian social principles

DEMONS AND DEMOCRATS: 1950s Labor at the Crossroads
by Gavan Duffy (Foreword by Bill Hayden)

(Freedom Publishing, 2002, 202pp, $27.95.
Available from AD Books or any bookshop)

Demons and Democrats is a history of the Catholic Social Studies Movement (Movement) - later to become the National Civic Council - and its influence in the Australian Labor Party until it was forced out in 1955.

Unlike other histories of the "Movement", this book by Gavan Duffy, a retired Queensland solicitor and former Democratic Labor Party Secretary is useful and important as a work of Australian history for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it relies chiefly on valuable oral histories from those associated with the Movement and the Australian Labor Party at the time of the "Split".

Lay apostolate

Secondly, only this work has put the role and the work of the Movement within the framework of the Catholic lay apostolate. This has become a forgotten premise when looking at those in the Movement and why they became involved in the first place in the fight against Communism in the unions in Australia. For these men and women lived out their Catholic, Christian vocation within the framework of the Movement.

Duffy also explores the problem of sectarianism faced by these predominantly Catholic activists and politicians. Sectarianism was a powerful weapon used by opponents of the Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, as it is today by many secular commentators.

It was the sectarian card which Labor opponents used in the 1950s to expel those associated with the Movement. But, as Duffy demonstrates, the expelled Labor members and branches were perhaps Labor's strongest and most committed supporters. Their departure following the Split was an incalculable loss to the Labor Party.

The Democratic Labor Party, whose formation followed the Split, would remain a vital force in Australian politics for the next 20 years, leading the debates in such areas as immigration, including ending of the White Australia Policy, and the introduction of State Aid to non-government schools.

The DLP was in fact a genuinely progressive party, drawing much of its inspiration from the Movement's principles, which were in turn founded on Catholic social teachings.

For those still associated with the Movement, this book should provide a sense of vindication; while for those Catholics presently involved or contemplating a career in politics, the witness of the Movement, with its goal of a just society based on the Church's social teachings Demons and Democrats should prove a source of inspiration.

Anthony Cappello is a young Catholic writer who works from Melbourne.

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