I was having a few beers the other day with a friend who is on speaking terms with various people associated with the remnant of B.A. ‘Bob’ Santamaria’s ‘Movement’ (although I am not sure that the NCC and the DLP are as unified as paranoiacs in the Labor Party would believe). He said that there is a minor push to canonise Bob Santamaria underway.
I have considerable ambiguity about Bob Santamaria. On the one hand, he played what I consider an invaluable role in eliminating the influence of the Communist Party from public and industrial life in Australia even before the advent of the Cold War [Anti-Communism is very much a good thing in my view, and watching his TV commentary ‘Point Of View’ on Sunday mornings as a child has helped shape my views on the subject]. On the other, his Machiavellian ruthlessness in pursuing the Communists with their own methods and his high degree of social conservatism [which makes me seem very progressive in comparison] were not so laudable.
I will leave aside his economic views, which are best described as unrealistically romantic, based on a medieval Utopianism where everyone would live on farms under the guidance of Mother Church, and where there is no room for Capitalism, as it is worldly and unspiritual.
But on the whole, I do still have a strong degree of sympathy for Bob Santamaria. Regardless of that, Sainthood for him would be a bad move for the Catholic Church, on the grounds of Divisiveness, Saintliness (or lack thereof), and Absurdity.
Taking Divisiveness first. The 1955 split in the Labor Party, precipitated by the politically inept but jurisprudentially brilliant H.V. Evatt, then Opposition Leader, was not one where Evatt himself was solely to blame.
It occurred sometime after the communists had been effectively purged from the union movement, with their influence within the ALP mostly eradicated. However, the various groups either led or predominately influenced by Santamaria (the Industrial Groups, the ‘Movement’, and Catholic Action) had continued their activities.
Mark Aarons, in his recent book ‘The Show’, has argued, with quite some evidence, that Santamaria’s Movement was aiming, with the communists purged, to transform the Labor Party into a party with predominantly Christian (ie Roman Catholic) values. Evatt, in that context, may well have had some justification for his preemptive strike.
The consequences of that decision led to the creation of what we now know as the DLP, which served as the principal thorn in the side of the ALP both federally and in Victoria and Queensland, well into the 1970s.
Federally, thanks to The Spilt, the ALP did not win government again until 1972, and in the states, it caused the fall of the Queensland and Victorian governments, with the ALP not winning government again in Victoria til 1982 and in Queensland til 1989.
There is still, given the romanticism of the myths woven around the ALP, a great degree of ill-feeling towards their antagonists in that Split, with Santamaria enjoying the role of principal villain.
Given that, even though we are a lot more secular now than we were in the 1950s, a lot of Catholics traditionally have tended to support the ALP, any canonisation of Santamaria (except in the Simpsonesque manner with an actual cannon) would not bode well for the Church.
There is also a lack of Saintliness around Santamaria. As Mark Aarons indicated in his recent book, not only was there was a degree of ruthlessness in the way that Santamaria ran his machine, but a degree of dissimulation (not to say mendaciousness) in his words.
In Shia Islam there is a concept called ‘Taqiya’, which involves a precautionary denial of one’s religious beliefs and practices in order to avoid persecution. This concept does of course lend itself to abuse, such as being used to gain advantage in less dangerous circumstances. Moral relativism, which most of us practise, whether we like it or not, does lend itself to rationalising our conduct. You could argue that in getting his followers to adopt a lot of the methods of the Communists, such as ballot fraud in union elections and covert tactics, Santamaria was practising a distorted form of Taqiya.
And then of course there is the Absurdity around the idea of Santamaria becoming a saint. After all, he was a mad keen Carlton supporter and can you imagine Carlton Football Club producing a saint?
Then, what would he become Patron Saint of, aside from Carlton Football Club? Branch Stacking?
And whilst he went by ‘Bob’ publicly, the B.A. stood for Bartholomew Augustine. In an era defined by The Simpsons, can you really imagine there being a canonisation of a Saint Bart?