A Political History of National Action: Its Fears, Ideas, Tactics and Conflicts

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ABSTRACT

Nation Action began in 1982 as a student-based radical nationalist group opposed to increased Asian immigration and multiculturalism in Australia. Adopting early to mid 20th century labourist policies, and blending them with traditional Australian radical nationalism, the group aimed to increase its appeal and membership through militant propaganda campaigns. However, its authoritarian structure and tactics fractured the group internally and prompted opponents to describe it as a neo-Nazi organisation. Such labelling served only to enhance its appeal to people who espoused white supremacist beliefs and were prepared to engage in increasingly violent behaviour. This examination of National Action suggests that the group was unable to develop either an effective organisational structure or a relevant set of ideas and objectives that could win it the broad popular support it sought. While aiming to rise above student-based politics, National Action never realised this goal and subsequently declined into obscurity.

Keywords: structure, behaviour, National Action, campaigns, beliefs

INTRODUCTION

In 1982 the radical nationalist group, National Action, emerged on university campuses in Sydney, mimicking the organisational structures of extreme leftist student organisations. Its tactics were reminiscent of those adopted by a variety of Maoist and Trotskyist groups active across universities during the 1970s. National Action primarily targeted Asian immigration. It adopted a radical stance with labourist rhetoric and policies akin to those of the first half of the 20th century. National Action also invoked elements of Australia's radical nationalist history, drawing on the ideas of William Lane and P.R. Stephensen, couched in the political rhetoric of Jack Lang. Its emblem was the Eureka flag.

The appropriation of these ideas and their marriage to increasingly extreme political action put the group out of step with mainstream Labor Party policies and alienated potential conservative supporters. Moreover, internal debates about the nature and direction of the group fractured the organisation internally, attracting a membership of disaffected people espousing neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs. Some members were ready to undertake criminal activities in support of their interpretation of the group's objectives. This brought National Action into conflict with media, politicians and law enforcement agencies.

An ill-defined set of objectives, a tendency to extremism, and an ostensibly authoritarian leadership unable to discipline its membership were factors which led to the collapse of National Action. In many respects the history of National Action (albeit short) tells the story of a nationalist student group declining into a rabble without a cause.

METHODOLOGY

National Action has been virtually ignored by historians and political scholars. Perhaps this is because of its relatively contemporaneous nature and the ephemeral character of sources generated by the organisation. But there also is a deeply ingrained orthodoxy surrounding the treatment of right wing extremist groups like National Action. A leading scholar in the field, Andrew Moore, unwittingly sums up the orthodoxy when he writes that 'the purpose of studying the history of the Australian Right is to know the enemy' (2005). There is a strong sense in the literature surrounding extreme right wing groups that any analysis of these groups should be accompanied by unequivocal condemnation. Impartial, analytical treatment of extreme right wing groups is consequently viewed as supporting, sympathising, or descending into apologetics. Writing objectively without adhering to the orthodoxy established in the literature incites anger among some readers and complicates publication in the field. Work pertaining specifically to National Action is cursory. Moore in his history of right wing groups, The Right Road? (1995), devotes little specific attention to National Action. …