Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Paraguay and the Failure of Australian Socialism

It's hard to understand Paraguay, without understanding the devastating consequences of the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1860's.  I've talked before about 'national traumas', events which have a lasting psychological impact on a nation, somehow shaping the mentality of its people.  I've talked about the Great Famine in Ireland, the destruction of the monasteries in Mongolia, the colonisation of Jamaica and the great floods of the Netherlands. 

I get the impression that the 'War of the Triple Alliance' was Paraguay's national trauma.  A complicated series of events saw Paraguay coming into conflict with its neighbours Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.  The result for Paraguay was not only a loss of territory, but also the loss of an estimated 50% of the nation's population, including 90% of the nation's men.  I can't even begin to imagine the impact this disastrous war had on the people of Paraguay. 

So, what has this got to do with Australian socialism?  Well, in a strange turn of events, Paraguay witnessed the failure of an Australian socialist Utopia, Nueva Australia.  In the aftermath of the War of the Triple Alliance, Paraguay's new leaders encouraged settlers to come and repopulate the country, offering generous parcels of land to those dreamers and visionaries wishing to establish new societies in this sparsely populated South American nation. 

Amongst those who took up the offer, in the 1890's, were a group of hardline socialists from Queensland, Australia, led by the erratic William Lane, a journalist of the 'firebrand' variety, already far to the left of Labour and disillusioned with the changing nature of Australian politics, the failure of the Shearers' strike in 1891 and the pressures of a serious economic depression. 

Born in Bristol, Lane's father was a Protestant from Ireland who drank his family into debt, forcing Lane to set off in search of fame and fortune, first in Detroit and later in Queensland, where he founded Australia's first Labour newspaper The Queensland Worker.  It might surprise some people to know that Lane was an ardent racist and the downfall of Nueva Australia is attributed to his despotic insistence that all 283 settlers adhere to strict rules which forbade alcohol and mixing with the native Guarani tribes. 

Many of the settlers returned to Australia, including the poet Mary Gilmore (famous for her World War 2 patriotic poem, No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest) but some of the settlers stayed and integrated with the local Spanish and Guarani populations and their descendents live in Paraguay until this day. 

By the way, Nietzsche's sister, Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche, also tried to found a racially pure, Nordic society in Paraguay with her husband and 14 German families, called . . . surprise, surprise, Nueva Germania.  Not surprisingly, their experiment also failed and Forster-Nietzsche moved back to Germany, where she later supported the German National Socialists (Nazis).

I'm going to leave you with a clip I found on YouTube, which shows interviews with people like Mary Gilmore, as well as one old man whose grandfather was an original settler in New Australia and who still speaks with an old-fashioned Aussie accent.


Image credits

The photograph is from Wikimedia Commons and is copyright free.  It's probably the most famous image that exists of the settlers at Neuva Australia and Wikipedia uses this image on their site

The image of the book cover is from http://www.openlibrary.org/ and shows the cover of Paradise Mislaid by Anne Whitehead, which documents the story of New Australia.  This book is pretty difficult to get one's hands on, so if you get a copy, don't forget to send it my way, so I can read it :-)
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