1941 • Newsreel


“When the enslaved European nations,” Bill begins, “break loose from Hitler’s domination with the help of the Red Army, will we be ready to accept the new Socialist order which will probably emerge? …” [RED, page 184]

In attempting to find out “What do people think?” the makers of this newsreel piece claimed they could find no one prepared to publicly oppose the Anglo-Soviet alliance.

Churchill’s willingness to enter into an alliance with the Soviet Union in July 1941 was a shock to some, as the cautious wording of the next still from the newsreel shows. Those opposed to the alliance were a “die-hard section” of Australian opinion, while the evil Soviet Union was dismissed as a “familiar bogey”:

2 Foreword 400

This was a time of strange unity among rivals, in which Australia’s tenacious anti-communist Billy Hughes, who in 1940 called the Australian Communist Party “the servile and unscrupulous agent” of Moscow, can now say in this 1941 newsreel item, “Everybody who stands at my right hand in this struggle is my friend. I care nothing for what he has been or what he is, communist or capitalist. All that he has done in the past will be forgotten, as long as he stands with us in this struggle against the tyranny of nazism.” (Newcastle Morning Herald, 5 March 1940; Public Opinion: the Russian Alliance: What Do People Think? Cinesound, 15 July 1941.) 

9 hughes

Billy Hughes was not alone in changing his mind under the pressures of this war. Between mid-1939 and mid-1941, communists and conservatives alike found themselves loudly borrowing the words of their opponents while quietly eating their own. In the thirties the communists were the first to realise the danger of Hitler and nazism; but in 1939–41 they called the war on Hitler a fight between old empires over markets. And now in June 1941, with Russia invaded, the communists found their old opinions new again. Menzies, meanwhile, was embarrassed by the 1939 invasion of Poland, having to declare war (his “melancholy duty”) on a nazi Germany he was publicly praising as an example to Australians only seven weeks earlier.   

8 bill

Looking unusually snappy in what must have been a borrowed suit, Bill Wood (captioned “W. A. Wood, BA Oxon., Rhodes Scholar”) expressed a clear expectation that victory in this war would lead to socialism across Europe and, he hoped, at home. His summary of the “old order” as “riches for the few and poverty for the many” echoes Shelley’s “The Mask of Anarchy”.  

Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fall’n on you,
Ye are many—they are few.

12 V victory

Others offering their opinion in this newsreel item are H. V. Evatt, Jessie Street, and “George Yates, worker”. 

(Public Opinion: the Russian Alliance: What Do People Think? Cinesound, 15 July 1941, National Film and Sound Archive, title no. 79892.)

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