Bust of Jack Lang #2011-0117
A plaster bust of NSW Premier Jack Lang; coloured a reddish brown (colouring almost certainly original); carved into the plaster at the base of the bust: ‘The People’s Champion Mr Lang’.
The ALP was returned to power at the federal election in 1929, winning 46 of 75 seats in the House of Representatives and the new prime minister was Jim Scullin. Labor’s federal campaign in New South Wales that was crucial to their success was run skilfully by E. G. Theodore, former Labor Premier of Queensland. But Theodore was unsuccessful in his subsequent challenge to Jack Lang’s schismatic control of the party in NSW, which was also a test of the strength of the federal ALP versus a state branch. Whilst Labor had been in opposition federally for 13 years, it had governed several times in all the states. Power and authority largely resided with the state branches.
Premier Lang’s answer to the Depression, the Lang Plan of 1931, proposed in part that interest due to British bondholders should not be paid until interest rate relief and rescheduled payments were offered. It was a radical alternative to the more orthodox cost-cutting measures that were endorsed by the states and the Federal Labor government and enshrined in the Premiers’ Plan of 1931. Jack Lang’s radical proposal aroused enormous hostility among conservative and Labor supporters alike. Lang perhaps hoped that his plan would propel him into leadership of the Labor Party nationally at a time when the Scullin government was in deep trouble, and also divert criticism being directed at his own position in New South Wales. He was faced by debts his government could not meet and was committed to maintaining full award wages in an economy starved of cash. The Lang Plan also marks the high point in the influence of the underconsumptionist theory of economist J. A. Hobson and the Social Credit version of his thinking (promoted by Major Douglas) on the Labor movement. Both Hobson and Douglas challenged the orthodox view that recovery from a depression depended oncutting both government expenditure and the costs of production. Douglas seemed to offer immediate but non-socialist answers to the economic problems of the 1930s and was widely studied throughout the English-speaking world. He attacked the same two enemies as Lang: academic economists and the big financiers whom Lang described as ‘playing with a world of men and women for sheer personal gain’. To his enemies, Lang’s alternative to the Premiers’ Plan was ‘merely a name used to cover a thorough-going and cunning plot by a secret Trades Hall junta, who are working relentlessly to fasten a socialistic dictatorship on the Russian model upon the people of New South Wales.’ (Letter from H. Brookes to G. Campbell, 1 September 1931.)
In New South Wales the Labor Party split over the Lang Plan, and a Federal Conference expelled the New South Wales branch. In November 1931 the Lang group in federal parliament, led by ‘Stabber Jack’ Beasley, which held the balance of power after Joe Lyons’ defection to the United Australia Party, brought down the Scullin government. Labor was decimated in the subsequent federal election.
Lang’s support had also fallen dramatically since his landslide win in 1930, even though he continued to be idolised by his more fanatical followers, amongst them the owners of these ‘People’s Champion’ busts. In March 1932 the Lyons government tried to force New South Wales to meet its financial obligations by seizing all monies belonging to the state from the banks. Lang put the state’s finances on a cash basis. Public servants were instructed not to pay receipts into any bank, and the Treasury’s vaults, stuffed with banknotes, were placed under police guard. The Governor of New South Wales, Sir Philip Game, convinced that the State Audit Act had been breached, dismissed Lang. Lang lost the subsequent election decisively, and never returned to power. He remained NSW Labor leader until 1939, through still more years of turbulence and division.
Several hundred copies of this bust were distributed in April 1932, following Game’s dismissal of Lang, by the ‘Lang is Right’ Committee (Barrier Miner, 29 April 1932). They were sent to unions, party branches and ‘socialisation units’, the last being groups of militant activists within the party. Although bronze versions were reported in the media, only plaster versions such as this one appear to have survived. It is likely that the colouring of this bust was meant to make it look like bronze, and that no bronzes were actually cast. The Sydney Morning Herald of 21 August 1946 records that copies of the bust were also circulated during Lang’s campaign for the Federal seat of Reid in 1946.