University of Melbourne, Old Arts and clocktower from Cussonia Court, 2020. Photographer: Peter Casamento © University of Melbourne

Joseph Parro

Joseph Parro (MA in History, 2021) ‘P.R. Stephensen and Transnational Fascism: From Interwar Adoption to Postwar Survival and Transmission’

This thesis examines Percy Reginald ‘Inky’ Stephensen (1901–1965), Australian author, publisher, authors’ agent, and political activist, in relation to the transnational fascist phenomena of the twentieth century. It challenges previous characterisations of Stephensen as an Australian nationalist first and a fascist second, who retired from political activism after the war. It utilises the historiographical frameworks of transnational fascism and historical network analysis to position Stephensen within the history of fascism: first as it spread over the globe in the interwar period through complex multidirectional processes of transfer, adoption, adaptation, and recontextualisation; and then in the survival of fascism, and its transmission to new generations of actors, through marginalised mutually re-enforcing subcultural networks after 1945.

Fascism as it emerged in Europe deeply resonated with Stephensen’s nationalist vision of a racially homogenous white Australia, and his desire for a cultural and political revolution that would rescue European culture from the decadent liberal-democratic forces that were driving its decline. Australia’s history as a British colony, in particular the violent process of colonisation, complicated fascist understandings of violence for Stephensen, but Hitler’s self-declared war against a racial Jewish-Communist enemy became a foundational component of Stephensen’s support for the White Australia Policy.

After Stephensen’s release from internment, he played a significant role in the survival and transmission of fascism in Australia by providing emotional and ideological encouragement, validation, and support for like-minded actors, and serving as a conduit for material, information, and ideas in an internationally connected extreme-Right network that existed in the political margins. Stephensen remained committed to the cause he had adopted prior to internment, and demonstrated an ability to edit his message for different post-war audiences, without compromising his belief in an international Jewish-Communist conspiracy that posed an existential threat to white nations.

This thesis contributes to understanding not only the impact that fascism had in Australia, but also the processes by which fascism spread in the interwar period and survived in a hostile post-war environment.

Supervisors: Dr Ángel Alcalde, Professor Sean Scalmer