Australia’s Gough Whitlam, 1916-2014
The CIA, the Queen’s Agent and the Man Who Got in the Way
When onetime Australian Labor Party (ALP) prime minister Gough Whitlam died at the age of 98 last October, the Sydney Morning Herald (26 October 2014) ran an obituary headlined “Martyr for a Moment, Hero for a Lifetime.” Whitlam’s moment of martyrdom came when his government was deposed on 11 November 1975 by Queen Elizabeth’s representative, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, using the English monarchy’s dubious “reserve powers” in Australia, which is part of the Commonwealth. What this and many other obituaries in the bourgeois media covered up or dismissed is that Whitlam’s ouster was a CIA-engineered “constitutional” coup, executed by Kerr in league with Australia’s conservative Opposition.Insofar as this social-democratic politician has become a retrospective hero in the eyes of sections of the Australian bourgeoisie, it is because he not only helped quell a massive working-class outpouring against his ouster but took what he knew of CIA spying and subversion, including against his regime, to his grave.
At the heart of the Whitlam affair, as far as the CIA was concerned, was its secret Pine Gap spy base in central Australia. Described by former CIA agent Victor Marchetti as a “giant vacuum cleaner,” Pine Gap collected data from U.S. spy satellites monitoring the Soviet Union. One of several U.S. installations in Australia, the base was key to Washington’s counterrevolutionary designs against the Stalinist-led Soviet workers state, including plans for a nuclear first strike. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, Pine Gap shifted its sights to China, the most powerful of the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states.
Having worked with pliant, conservative Liberal Party governments for 23 years, mainly under Prime Minister Robert Menzies, the CIA and its underlings in the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) were mistrustful of Whitlam from the moment he was elected in December 1972. A classically educated son of a Commonwealth Crown Solicitor who was proud of his own elevation to Queen’s Counsel (the top rank of lawyers), Whitlam was no radical. Whereas the Menzies era could be described as “troglodyte Australian capitalism,” Whitlam wanted to modernize this former British colonial outpost, now beholden to Washington, so that it could play a more effective role as a regional imperialist power in Asia.
We headlined our article on Whitlam’s victory: “Capital’s Labor Trustee: Australian Labor Party Elected” (WV No. 17, March 1973). Whitlam was elected with support from sizable sections of the Australian bourgeoisie (including right-wing media magnate Rupert Murdoch), which both welcomed modernization and hoped that a government of the Labor Party—a party based on the working class but with a pro-capitalist leadership—could contain a rising tide of class struggle. Only three years earlier, some one million workers had gone on strike nationally in defense of an avowedly Communist union official, Clarrie O’Shea, who was jailed for his defiance of anti-union laws. Class struggle continued to mount after Whitlam’s election. The Christmas 1972 U.S. bombing of Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, brought waterfront workers out on a political strike against American shipping companies.
In his first few months in office, Whitlam implemented a number of significant reforms aimed at appeasing the restive proletariat. He introduced a national health service, made higher education free for all and granted women workers in the public sector equal pay. Applying a fresh coat of paint to the hoary facade of racist “White Australia,” Whitlam promised to alleviate the misery of the downtrodden Aboriginal people and liberalized immigration rights for Asians and Pacific Islanders. Whitlam pulled Australian troops out of the losing U.S.-led counterrevolutionary war in Vietnam, while senior cabinet minister Jim Cairns denounced the Nixon administration as “corrupt” for its bombing of Hanoi. The security services saw Cairns, a prominent antiwar campaigner and in the left wing of the ALP, as little short of a “commo.” Frank Snepp, a CIA officer then stationed in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), later recalled: “We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.”
Whitlam would draw increasing ire from the CIA and ASIO. The day after he took office, he told ASIO that it could not vet members of his staff; a few months later he poured salt on the wound when he authorized a raid on ASIO offices in Melbourne. At his first meeting with the U.S. ambassador, Whitlam promised to maintain the secret U.S. bases in Australia—as long as Washington didn’t try to “screw us.” In April 1974, he told Parliament that he would honor agreements on existing U.S. bases but would not allow any new ones. By then, Washington had appointed a new ambassador, one Marshall Green, known as the “coupmaster.” The moniker was well-earned, as Green had a habit of turning up in places about to undergo bloody, U.S.-backed coups (e.g., Indonesia 1965).
Whitlam was also facing growing dissatisfaction on the home front. A sharp spike in the price of oil in 1973 had drawn Australia into recession. The reforms that may have earlier appeared affordable to the bourgeoisie no longer seemed so. Whitlam harped on the need to fight inflation; his labor minister denounced unions for “bloody-mindedness” and “selfishness” and demanded that they accede to a “voluntary” wage freeze and no-strike pledge. In 1974, twice as many workdays were lost to strike activity as in 1971. The bourgeoisie was losing patience with the ALP for not moving hard enough or fast enough against its working-class base, and the erstwhile pro-Whitlam Murdoch press, in collaboration with the conservative parties, spearheaded a sustained media campaign to unseat him.
Cairns was forced out of his post as treasurer in July 1975, followed a few months later by a second cabinet minister. The Senate, controlled by the conservative Opposition, refused to approve a federal budget until Whitlam agreed to new elections. On November 2, Whitlam openly accused the Opposition of being funded by the CIA and vowed to provide details, including the names of CIA operatives, to the next session of Parliament, nine days later. On the morning of November 11, Whitlam met Kerr, the Queen’s representative, who proceeded to sack Whitlam and appoint Liberal Opposition leader Malcolm Fraser in his place.
According to Australian journalist John Pilger, the CIA was terrified that Whitlam “was about to ‘blow’ the cover of the man who had set up Pine Gap” and “was certain Whitlam would announce the cancellation of the Pine Gap agreement” when notice of renewal came due a month later (A Secret Country ). Whether these fears were valid or not, the CIA certainly had plenty of reason to want to see the back of Whitlam, as did the Australian bourgeoisie. The Americans turned to “our man Kerr,” as the CIA called him. Kerr had a long history of association with the CIA going back to its WWII predecessor, the OSS, and various CIA fronts like the Asia Foundation and the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom. “All this was on the record,” writes Pilger, when Whitlam nominated Kerr to be governor-general in 1974.
Around the same time that the CIA & Co. were putting in place the scenario for Whitlam’s sacking, an idealistic young Californian with a penchant for falconry was working for a CIA contractor, TRW Inc. (formerly Thompson Ramo Wooldridge), which decoded messages from Pine Gap. Coming across information of CIA dirty tricks in Australia, Christopher Boyce was enraged by the duplicity of the U.S. government. With his friend Andrew Daulton Lee, Boyce took documents from TRW and made them available to the Soviets. Their story inspired the book and film, The Falcon and the Snowman. After nearly a quarter-century of incarceration on espionage charges, Boyce was released in 2003, refusing to this day to recant. As our comrades of the then Spartacist League of Australia and New Zealand wrote three decades ago: “All opponents of imperialist war, particularly in Australia, owe this man a debt. He told us more about what was really happening to this country than any Labor politician” (see “Reagan Bombs Down Under,” WV No. 375, 22 March 1985).
When the Boyce revelations first emerged, Australasian Spartacist No. 43 (June 1977) commented in an article headlined “The Long Arm of the CIA”: “None but a fool could doubt that the US would maintain an intelligence operation in a strategic component of its worldwide counterrevolutionary military alliances—ANZUS [the Australia-New Zealand-U.S. alliance] is hardly a secret—nor that it would keep secrets from what is after all a very junior imperialist partner.” Gough Whitlam was certainly no fool. The late Gore Vidal, a friend of Whitlam’s, quipped: “It was an unusual experiment for Australia to choose as its Prime Minister its most intelligent man.”
When Whitlam was ousted, workers across Australia spontaneously poured into the streets in outrage. Ports around the country were brought to a virtual halt, rail and public transport were disrupted and calls for a general strike were rife. Seeking to break workers from the framework of parliamentary reformism, our Australian comrades pointed to the need for an extraparliamentary government based on workers organizations. The banner they carried at a mass rally in Sydney on November 13 read: “For a General Strike to Dump Fraser! For an ALP/ACTU Government Pledged to Expropriate the Capitalist Class!”
But the potential for such a challenge to capitalism was nipped in the bud, thanks largely to the efforts of Bob Hawke, then head of the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions), as well as the Labor Party chiefs. Hawke proclaimed, “We are not going to allow this to snowball” and ensured that seething anger was channeled into parliamentary impotence. Elections held a few weeks after Whitlam’s ouster gave Fraser a solid victory, and a renewed anti-labor offensive opened that continues to this day. As Labor prime minister from 1983-91, Hawke was the staunchest of U.S. allies during Ronald Reagan’s Cold War II offensive against the Soviet Union. Whitlam himself, ever loyal to the capitalist order, did his best to stifle working-class resistance to his ouster and quite often denied any CIA role.
Whitlam was a modernizing social democrat whose political horizons extended no higher than to administer the capitalist state and to mollify the working class with measures that would help assure class peace for the bourgeoisie. Yet he fell afoul of the bloodiest and most crazed ruling class on the face of the earth—the U.S. bourgeoisie. An end to the spying and subversion, to the counterrevolutionary intrigues and wars carried out by both the major and minor imperialists will come only when capitalist rule is swept away by an insurgent proletariat led by a revolutionary internationalist party.