Home > Oz Politics > A conversation with Arthur Gietzelt

A conversation with Arthur Gietzelt

February 8th, 2014

There’s been quite a lot of discussion about the political views of former Senator Arthur Gietzelt, who died recently at the age of 93, and in particular about claims[1] that he was a secret member of the Communist Party.

Although it’s scarcely conclusive, this is one of the few occasions when I have some direct evidence to contribute to a discussion of this kind. In the aftermath of 1975, I formed the view (ill-advised in retrospect) that I could help fix Australia’s problems by becoming a Labor party staffer. I wanted to move to Sydney, so I applied to all the shadow ministers based there, receiving replies only from Doug McClelland and Arthur Gietzelt.

I can’t remember much about McClelland, or even for sure if I met him. As I recall, he was associated with the Right, but didn’t have the thuggish persona that generally went with that group, especially after the rise of Graham Richardson.

But, although I didn’t get the job, I did have a brief conversation with Gietzelt, who said something to me along the following lines “When I was your age [I was in my early 20s at the time], we all thought the Soviet Union was the way of the future. But you young people will have to find a different way forward”. My politics then were much as they are now, on the left, but strongly anti-communist, and of course, I was puzzled as to how the left should respond to the resurgence of neoliberalism/market liberalism, represented at the time by Malcolm Fraser(!). So this resonated with me in a number of ways, and I’ve never forgotten it.

I took it to mean that Gietzelt had once been a communist sympathizer (whether a party member or ‘fellow traveller’) but had ceased to be so. That wouldn’t be totally inconsistent with an association with the then Communist Party of Australia, which had broken from Moscow after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but that wasn’t the impression I had: I assumed that his views had changed well before that, presumably in the wake of the Hungarian invasion and Kruschchev’s secret speech.

As I say, this is scarcely decisive evidence, but Gietzelt had no reason to mislead me, and no need to say anything at all to me along these lines: in all probability we were never going to meet again, and we didn’t.[2] So, my own guess is that, if Gietzelt was ever a member of the Communist Party, it was well before he entered the Federal Parliament.

[fn1] Made most prominently, I think, by Mark Aarons, who, however, wasn’t drawing on personal knowledge but from a reading of ASIO files – scarcely a reliable source as anyone who remembers the ASIO of the Cold War era will attest

[fn2] It was a long time ago, and it’s possible that I was still a candidate for the job. But presumably, in that case, a secret CPer would be dropping hints in the other direction, to see if I was likely to be OK with the idea.

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  1. Robert (not from UK)
    February 8th, 2014 at 15:41 | #1

    Douglas McClelland is still very much alive, BTW. I have heard him spoken of as a great gentleman by someone who couldn’t possibly have been accused of undue sympathy with his politics, or with ALP politics in general.

  2. Fran Barlow
    February 8th, 2014 at 16:55 | #2

    I’ve often wondered if I had an ASIO file. At the age of 18 I was actually followed by two middle-aged men in the kinds of suit that made them look like extras in an episode of “Homicide”. I was on a motorcycle and they were in what was then a fairly late model (an XC) Falcon. I noticed them because in those days I used to have a quite eccentric path from my house at Ryde into the city and being 19 liked to work the bike pretty hard and they had therefore to drive even harder to stay with me.

    Naturally, I had to test my theory, and to do so I left my route and doubled back through a street that only had one way in and out by car but permitted a person riding a bike to pass between a cyclone mesh fence and a brick wall and into a park. (I had decided long before that this would be my way of shaking someone tailing me). I then doubled back to the head of the street to view the vehicle. They seemed plenty annoyed.

    In those days there were no mobile phones and no cameras, and after a few minutes, they left the street and turned down the street leading to the other end of the park. I noted their plates.

    Later on that evening on return home I saw the car parked about 50 metres north of my home so I pulled in behind a large truck, discarded my helmet and then waited until it became dark enough to approach them furtively.

    Sure enough when I got close enough for a look it was the same two guys. I tapped on their window, nearly scaring them half to death. When the driver wound down the window I produced a tyre lever and said — you’d better have some legitimate business or I’m going to find out where this fits.

    The guy flashed but quickly withdrew some official looking ID and said something that sounded like “special branch” (I think this was the organisation that framed Tim Anderson over the Hilton Bombing later) and asked me where I’d been.

    Again, being 18, I told him, in the vernacular of the time, what he could do with his question, and added that until he told me who he was and whom he worked for I wouldn’t be answering any of his questions. He elected to leave. Quickly.

    I saw the two of them at a couple of rallies later — one in solidarity with Fretilin, and another in an anniversary of the Whitlam sacking. I warned a couple of people to keep clear of them.

  3. paul walter
    February 8th, 2014 at 16:59 | #3

    The Murdochites are addicted to running McCarthyite sly smear campaigns against free thinkers; the slandering of Manning Clark was just the most visible example of stuff that has been happening for generations.

    As for the ALP and neoliberalism, I genuinely believed that ALP state governments were elected by the public to defend both genuinely rational economics (not carpetbagging) and the Commons.

    What a shattering disappointment this century thus has proved to be, therefore.

  4. Ikonoclast
    February 8th, 2014 at 18:01 | #4

    @Fran Barlow

    You had an ASIO file for sure. In those days that made you a little special but not any more. These days I am sure every Australian citizen has an ASIO file. TPTB now have the resources for total surveillance. I have no doubt they use them.

  5. kevin1
    February 8th, 2014 at 19:50 | #5

    I think the OP and comments show the inevitably speculative and discursive nature of these discussions, in assessing the inner thoughts of people. Not being critical, as JQ’s anecdote may well serve to cancel out Mark Aarons’ guesses, but seems to me trying to situate someone reliably on a spectrum, or label them with a badge, is biased towards statics rather than dynamics, as we seek labels which serve polemics but close down analysis.(Always found the “secret card-carrying communist” allegation a strange one – is this card like a whisky flask or a pocket warmer (remember them?) that you stroke, to fortify you? The secret wouldn’t last for long.

    That moment of revelation when it hits you that the world works differently to what the official story told you, yet everybody else seems comfortable with the moral or credibility deficit, is a powerful and personally disruptive force. I expect post The Dismissal, lots of soul-searching and moodiness would have been going on, and personal disappointments (including with Whitlam and Hawke’s tame response) must have raised questions in radical parliamentarians about the parliamentary road. Showing their bravery and strength of conviction, parliamentarians George Georges and George Petersen didn’t drop their bundle, and continued agitating as maverick individuals. They didn’t need to be secret agents of anyone else.

    I thought the recent series on SBS about the radicals and their ASIO files could’ve explored a lot of important issues, but seemed mainly nostalgic “war tales” and cloak and dagger excitement. The fact of large scale political reinvention by so many people associated with the hard left says something about the times, the influence of personal lifestages and the political categories themselves.

  6. Robert (not from UK)
    February 8th, 2014 at 20:17 | #6

    Ikonoclast :
    @Fran Barlow
    These days I am sure every Australian citizen has an ASIO file.

    One of the few times I ever found myself in sympathy with Humphrey McQueen was when he wondered out loud why ASIO justified its existence nowadays, since almost everybody and his dog engages in relentless political and personal confessionalism via Facebook.

  7. Megan
    February 8th, 2014 at 20:54 | #7

    @Fran Barlow

    Agree with Ikon’s assessment.

    As an aside, a relative worked in the building where (everyone knew it was also the CIA) the Sydney US consulate was housed. He used to point out the CIA guys by their suit material – apparently someone had got the contract and used reams of identical blue fabric to make their suits.

    The “Falcon” is interesting, too. You might not find it easily but ‘Green Falcons’ were an identifying feature of fascist secret police in Latin America in the ’70s.

    I agree the SBS series on ASIO could have been much more than it was, but I would still recommend everyone see it.

  8. Megan
    February 8th, 2014 at 21:06 | #8

    PS: There was a guy known as the ‘Father of The Falcon’:

    The project which became the Falcon was started and sponsored by Ford General Manager Robert S. McNamara, who commissioned a team to create what by American standards of the time would be a small car but elsewhere in the world considered a mid-size. McNamara, who was promoted to Group Vice President of Cars and Trucks by the time Falcon was launched, was intimately involved in development, insisting on keeping the costs and weight of the car as low as possible.

    Yep, same guy. Who needs theories of conspiracies when the real world evidence proves them?

  9. paul walter
    February 8th, 2014 at 22:31 | #9

    I think many of us will have files.

    Anyone who isn’t brain dead is likely to have a file on them, in this country.

  10. February 9th, 2014 at 01:23 | #10

    Some among Tony’s Cabinet do not have files – apparently, not an oversight.

  11. February 9th, 2014 at 02:19 | #11

    So there are over 23,000,000 files in this country that basically say, “Probably not a terrorist”? That seems like a bit of a wasted effort. I’m so glad these sorts of things can be put on computers these days and not in manila folders otherwise we would probably have driven the manila extinct by now. If Sun Tzu is correct and he who defends everywhere defends nowhere, then in a country where everyone has a file on them does no one have a file on them? Of course that would mean that if Stasi had been a little more dilligent and have a file on everyone then about 16,111,000 files would suddenly disappear once they got the job done and that seems unlikely, so maybe I shouldn’t over apply Sun Tzu and the Art of War in my life and perhaps I should just confine it to certain areas such as my love life.

  12. Fran Barlow
    February 9th, 2014 at 06:45 | #12


    Well everyone, or nearly everyone is documented, but I would be surprised if most people were being documented by ASIO or an equivalent agency. That’s not to say that there probably are far more files than are warranted by any serious threat to the legitimate interests of others.

  13. Geoff Andrews
    February 9th, 2014 at 09:17 | #13

    @Fran Barlow
    Fran, nice to see you’ve moderated your extremist philosophies and become a respectable matron (?)

  14. paul walter
    February 9th, 2014 at 09:24 | #14

    I doubt whether Fran has ever been an extremist, just a bit good hearted and curious as to how the world works.

    You could nail her for pedantry, but that’s a different issue..

  15. Fran Barlow
    February 9th, 2014 at 10:12 | #15

    Geoff Andrews

    Fran, nice to see you’ve moderated your extremist philosophies and become a respectable matron (?)

    I’ve never had extremist philosophies though it would be fair to say that I’m extremely interested in nurturing a world in which every human grasps the mandates and constraints of “playing nicely with others” and uses that insight to shape their decision-making. Some people think that’s the very definition of extremism, others might see that as befitting a respectable matron, and yet others might think it an incipiently revolutionary concept spanning the micro and the macro.

    Which of these, if any, best characterises your view of my interest?

  16. Jim Rose
    February 9th, 2014 at 10:30 | #16

    When he was in his 20s and seeing stalin as the face of the future, it was the 1940s.

    After the great famine, the purges and show trials, and stalin siding with the nazis!

    The communist party was banned after the fall of france by menzies because of its defeatism and sabotage of the war effort

  17. sunshine
    February 9th, 2014 at 11:12 | #17

    My ASIO story is from someone I knew reasonably well but havent seen for a long time now ,he seemed honest . He was a bit of a commie and did a Phd (I think it was ) on student politics of the 70’s at La Trobe Uni (where I met him) so it makes sense he would have had his own manila folder. A few years after uni he got a job secondary teaching at one of Ballarats top Catholic boys schools. Its beside the point of this post but having noticed him to be gay they promptly put him on locker duty so he could watch the boys undressing ,and he said there was lots of dodgy stories like that and much worse. Anyway when he began organising some kind of better representative body for the lay staff ( the Brothers ran the show ) he got called in to the Vic Catholic schools head office in Melb where they had his ASIO file . They said it said he was gay and that he had visited Eastern Bloc countries. There was no ASIO person at the meeting. Then he resigned .

  18. jungney
    February 9th, 2014 at 14:46 | #18

    Yes sunshine, that’s how it used to work and may still possibly do.

    As to CPA sleepers within the ALP, well, just look at what has happened to the ALP since they all retired or were expelled; it’s gone to the dogs, run by people who report daily to the US Consulate on cabinet discussions. Look, the ALP ought to preserve Gietzelt and keep him on display the way the that Bentham had himself kept as an ‘auto-icon’. I reckon Uncle Ray’s smiling presence in the foyer at Sussex st would have a salutary effect and keep the party on the straight and narrow.

    I retreived my NSW State Special Branch file and am in the process of retrieving my ASIO file from the National Library. It won’t say much but will make interesting reading. The trick is to try and figure out who was the rat.

  19. peter
    February 9th, 2014 at 15:44 | #19

    Anyone who thinks it worthwhile can apply to the National Archives of Australia and fill out a form –
    Application for access to an ASIO record not in Archives custody. NA will contact ASIO and seek release of any file held. Depending on how long such material may have been held – and their necessity not to compromise any ASIO operative(s)(hence the older the better) – a request will get a response either photocopies or digitised within about 3 months. It may be redacted or refused.
    Before chasing ASIO, Archives offer their RecordSearch database for details of ASIO files already in their custody. First up a trip to Canberra might be the best bet. Happy hunting

  20. J-D
    February 9th, 2014 at 16:45 | #20

    If the Communist Party ever attempted the strategy of infiltrating operatives secretly into the ALP in order to facilitate a takeover of the country, obviously it failed completely.

    I can imagine that ASIO and Special Branch agents would like to believe that it was their unsung heroic counter-efforts that foiled the Communists. But I think any such hypothetical plan for a Communist takeover would have had no chance of success from the start, and any work by ASIO or Special Branch agents to stop it would have been as much totally wasted effort as the hypothetical efforts of the Communist infiltration agents themselves.

    So, in sum, I don’t see that it makes any difference one way or the other whether Arthur Gietzelt was secretly a Communist.

    Incidentally, on two separate occasions as a university student in the 1980s I consulted a University careers adviser and on both occasions one of the ideas he canvassed with me was the possibility of becoming an ASIO agent. On the second occasion he showed no signs of remembering having mentioned the idea to me before. I never gave it serious consideration, but I always wondered what the story behind it was. Did he raise the possibility with every student who saw him? If not, there must have been something about me that made him consider me a likely prospect. But what?

  21. jungney
    February 9th, 2014 at 17:50 | #21

    S-D, maybe it was yr good looks?

    I recall a commission of Inquiry into the S.A. State Special Branch, I think the Commissioner was called Fox, who found that the SA Police had accumulated 50,000 files on dangerous subversives in S.A.; he commented that they must have been the most incompetent subversives in human history having failed entirely to seize control of power in S.A. and recommended abolishing Special Branch, which was done. Apparently the main criteria that the Police had for deciding someone was a subversive was that they held views or behaved in ways unfamiliar to S.A. Police.

    Remember the S.A. Police murder of George Duncan in 1972 because he was ‘different.’

  22. Megan
    February 9th, 2014 at 20:58 | #22


    In Qld Special Branch (which was the precursor to ASIO – btw) infiltrated informants into Quakers and anti-fascist/peace groups right from the start. Heard this at the Qld Police Museum lecture series from an ex-special branch detective. He was sort of making light of it, like it was way back in the olden days, but I found it chilling.

  23. John Quiggin
    February 10th, 2014 at 04:38 | #23

    State Special Branches co-existed with ASIO, and were generally seen as more focused on political reppression and even more comically incompetent.. They were mostly abolished in the late 20th century, but some have been re-established as counter-terrorism units, I think.

  24. Paul Norton
    February 10th, 2014 at 07:42 | #24

    The CPA punched well above its weight in terms of its intellectual influence on the broader left (including the ALP Left) even after it had ceased to be able to do much in its own name. This was the real significance of the establishment of the Socialist Forum group in Victoria in 1984 – the CPA’s Victorian leadership had formed the view that there was no longer any scope for a political party to the left of the ALP and that the CPA should fold itself into a “socialist organisation” that would mainly focus on ideas and policy development, and when this position didn’t win majority support within the CPA nationally they decided to take that option in Victoria.

    Even after this, the CPA and its publications (the weekly Tribune and the monthly Australian Left Review) continued to be considered essential reading for Labor people, and from 1986 onwards ALR became a major forum for leading ALP members to discuss the problems of the ALP and potential solutions. Lindsay Tanner was prominent in these discussions and openly acknowledged the ALP Left’s intellectual debt to the CPA.

    As for indulgent attitudes to the Soviet Union, these were quite widespread on the Australian Left for much of the 20th century, and one of the ironies is that after the CPA broke with the Soviet Union over the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and subsequently it was met with a chorus of complaints from ALP Left and independent Left people that “you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, “you’re more worried about a dog being kicked in Moscow than about workers being exploited in Australia”, etc. I certainly encountered these attitudes in 1989-91 from a couple of prominent ex-ALP identities in the Brisbane Left who have since passed on.

  25. Ikonoclast
    February 10th, 2014 at 09:41 | #25

    @John Quiggin

    The key phrase is “comically incompetent”. I wonder sometimes if comical incompetence reveals a deep-seated psychological wish to not oppress too much. I know at times in my government job I found creative ways to not obey oppressive directives.

  26. February 10th, 2014 at 09:59 | #26

    No, I think they were genuinely incompetent, Ikonoclast (although not so comical – a few acquaintances were quite savagely assaulted by SA Special Branch coppers).

    On a related note, we got a few visits from Commonwealth police back in the day – aaparently one of my housemates had failed to register for National Service, and they eventually noticed it one time he was collecting the dole. Keystone Kops writ small … they thought the blokes in the house were all poofters (we affected long hair), and told my girlfriend she was in terrible moral danger as a consequence. As she told them, where would she be safer than in a house full of homosexuals?

  27. Uncle Milton
    February 10th, 2014 at 10:39 | #27

    True story about Arthur Gietzelt, which I heard from someone who heard it from one of his staffers.

    Gietzelt and this staffer were on the phone, when all of a sudden they heard their conversation being replayed. Evidently the ASIO phone tapping equipment wasn’t working properly. This was the late 70s or early 80s.

    JQ, if you’d been employed by Gietzelt, you’d have an ASIO file for sure.

    Gietzelt went on to become a minister in the Hawke government. I think he was minister for territories, and was responsible for the ACT getting self government.

    Another Gietzelt story. At some point in the late 70s, he was shadow minister for agriculture. He lost his place in the shadow ministry due to some piece of factional bastardry. He took a bunch of files to the new agriculture shadow minister.

    “What I am supposed to do with these?”, he asked.

    “You can shove them up your arse”, replied Gietzelt.

  28. kevin1
    February 10th, 2014 at 10:40 | #28

    Rather than just figures of fun, the Special Branches corroded democracy significantly, right back to 1931when Blamey was Chief Commissioner in Victoria, and said by historians to be leading a proto-fascist secret army outside his official duties!

    Google Special Branch and look at some of the commentary eg. in 1977, 80,000 files on NSW individuals and organisations and 28,500 on individuals in SA including all but two State and Federal Labor parliamentarians. This at a time when the Communist Party probably had only 2-3,000 members nationally. According to Justice White, the SA files were “scandalously inaccurate, irrelevant to security purposes and outrageously unfair to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of loyal and worthy citizens” Don Dunstan’s Wikipedia entry notes that he sacked Police Commissioner Salisbury for misleading him about the files. Jude McCulloch’s 1999 report KEEPING THE PEACE OR KEEPING PEOPLE DOWN? POLICING IN VICTORIA gives a lot of history.

    It’s probably true that political surveillance is away from verbal radicalism and street marches towards “homegrown extremism” with international links, but the Qld anti-bikie laws are giving new authority to state police to move further into a para-military role with associated training, and the “right to be different” is still under threat. Tolerance for nose rings and pink hair is not the diversity I mean here, but the difference referred to in that phrase “it’s better to have character than to be a character”. Marcus’s “repressive tolerance” idea comes to mind.

  29. Megan
    February 10th, 2014 at 10:44 | #29

    @John Quiggin

    Yes, after ASIO was created in 1949 they happily worked together. Qld’s ‘Special Bureau’ (as it was first called) was formed in July 1940.

    Don Lane devoted a chapter to it in his memoir:

    To the ordinary Australian this might sound sinister, but these people were far removed from the political agents of fiction or those employed by some of the countries whose policies were hostile to Australia. They were ordinary members of the community, including schoolteachers, housewives and tradesmen. Most of them infiltrated the various organisations whose activities we were required to have knowledge of, and in some cases risked personal retribution if they were exposed. But it was a risk they chose to run, undertaking their work for the Branch in the public interest. I was impressed with their sincerity.

    He also wrote that he found it ironic that Labor complained about it during the ’60s, ’70s & ’80s since it was formed under a Labor government.

  30. Uncle Milton
    February 10th, 2014 at 10:55 | #30

    @Paul Norton

    I knew some Labor Party activists who referred to Stalin, without irony, as “Uncle Joe”.

    More than one later become members of parliament.

  31. jungney
    February 10th, 2014 at 12:39 | #31

    @Paul Norton As usual Paul, an entirely accurate potted history of the times. Thanks. I joined a non-CPSU organization full of non-conformists, artists of all sorts including the Jindyworobaks, actors, musos, old radicals who gave lectures about the illegal period and the importance of never backing down. A fantastic collation of nationalists, in fact, more than communists by the time the New Left arrived.

  32. jungney
    February 10th, 2014 at 12:42 | #32


    Thanks for that and the links to other sources. Not Commissioner Fox, but white. Funny how this old history comes around again. Viva Assange!

  33. may
    February 10th, 2014 at 12:48 | #33

    to keep tabs on and isolate the people who can fill the empty spaces in our social connections is an absolute neccesity for the harvesting of consent to be reassured.

    from the incredibly efficient intelligence gathering mechanism of the confessional box to the one in four reporting (willing or unwilling) to the east german stasi,when have we been not under surveillance by opaque power cliques?

    the disintegration of local groups by intransigent individuals has probably been experienced by quite a lot of us.
    @28 the local voices for disunity don’t all come from govt .

    at the mo there is a court case where a farmer who lost highly valuable certification due to the contamination of his product by genome invasion is taking action against the person who legally introduced the contaminant..
    this is case is being watched throughout the world.

    it goes a bit further than the personal.
    one aspect is the fact that in the same way different types of tomatos(say) will readily cross pollinate,so wild turnip, wild mustard and the crop in question,canola (used to be known as rape,latin rapa(wonder why they changed it?))have crossed and produced weeds of grain crops in the wheat belt that are immune to expensive pesticides.
    so a farmer will spend on weed control and still lose money by having the product down graded by weed seed and on top of that,lose money because the product cannot be sold a gm free.

    you think there is no surveillance by the profit seekers of the people getting this info into the public mind?

    at another level personal information gathered by barclays bank has been sold.
    (ah a free and liberated open market)

    the commie bogey?
    gawd,it’s dead.
    bury it.

  34. Paul Norton
    February 10th, 2014 at 12:56 | #34

    Without taking a view on the accuracy of the specific claims made in ASIO files about Arthur Gietzelt’s party affiliations, I’d point out that Mark Aarons was able to compare the contents of his and his family’s ASIO files with his, and their, recollections of events and formed the view that often ASIO agents were quite well clued up on what was happening in and around the CPA. Of course this doesn’t mean that there weren’t also many cases of scandalously inaccurate, speculative and prurient “intelligence” being placed on file.

  35. Paul Norton
    February 10th, 2014 at 13:00 | #35

    I once had the chance to see a report on the “intelligence” activities of the NSW Special Branch and it was hilarious at one level but deeply disturbing on another. All that you needed to do to be the subject of a Special Branch file was to park your car near the NSW Labour Council building or to run the vehicle hire company that the May Day Committee hired trucks from for their speakers’ platform.

  36. Uncle Milton
    February 10th, 2014 at 13:14 | #36

    @Paul Norton

    Because the Labor Party in NSW didn’t split, The NSW Labour Council was not merely un-communist, it was full of, if not run by, Groupers. The NSW Special Branch must have had rocks in their heads.

  37. Gabrielle of Brisbane
    February 10th, 2014 at 13:17 | #37

    Having been a member of both the CPA and the ALP during the 1980s I can safely say that many of the older generation of the ALP left were much more Stalinist in their political positions than the CPA was. The reason for this lies much more in their roots in European politics than it does in anything which happened in Australia. Europeans leftists generally referred to Stalin as ‘Uncle Joe’, especially Italians, and don’t forget the fact that Greeks had two communist parties as well as PASSOC to which their families in Greece owed their various loyalties. I know less about German Parties but no doubt there is a similar story there. Within the Italian PCI there were numerous political positions about the USSR but there was a lot of distance from it in their stated positions. Grass roots party members were very different as many had been partisans, or their immediate family members had been, and so they were very loyal to that which had sustained them in their hardest times. It is actually a very complex story. It is very important to understand why people thought the way they did.

  38. Lee Gietzelt
    February 10th, 2014 at 13:33 | #38

    There’s an enormous amount of information about Arthur Gietzelt, which paints a completely different picture, that hasn’t been published yet.
    Eg, Arthur’s ASIO file 1983… “In summary therefore any information passed outside ASIO should be qualified because without further corroborating evidence a statement that GIETZELT was a secret Party member would not stand close scrutiny.” Even ASIO didn’t have any concrete proof, and doubted the quality of their own intelligence. Arthur has strongly denied ever being a dual card carrier of the ALP and CPA. Where’s the presumption of innocence? None of this garbage would stand up in court. The author of these scurrilous attacks hasn’t told anyone that he sought preselection for a seat on Sutherland Shire Council and asked for Arthur’s backing. It was not forthcoming. Sour grapes, get square, conflict of interest? You be the judge.

  39. Uncle Milton
    February 10th, 2014 at 14:33 | #39

    @Lee Gietzelt

    In the absence of credible contrary evidence he should be taken at his word.

    But what would it matter if he was a member of the CPA while also a member of the ALP? At the time there were more than a few members of the ALP who were also members of the NCC, which was also a proscribed organisation.

    It was just the politics, especially the intra-Labor politics, of the time.

  40. kevin1
    February 10th, 2014 at 14:51 | #40

    @Uncle Milton

    I would be much more concerned at a Labor caucus meeting with those members who would run down to the US consulate and spill their guts about who was saying and doing what at internal meetings. The risk to Aust national sovereignty from US scheming to manipulate the ALP would have to be greater than anything that could be achieved by the CPA, mostly ageing and reformist by the late 60s, outnumbered by more radical elements of the Australian left within activist circles, hostile to the USSR and Chinese communists, and with little influence in mainstream Australia.

  41. Uncle Milton
    February 10th, 2014 at 15:01 | #41


    I would be much more concerned at a Labor caucus meeting with those members who would run down to the US consulate and spill their guts

    That would be the man who is going to liberate the country from Tony Abbott.

    From Crikey, August 11, 2011

    A confidential cable leaked today by WikiLeaks from the US consulate in Melbourne contains an extraordinary portrait of federal Labor MP Bill Shorten as a power hungry sycophant and contains similar allegations from last year that the foreign power is being provided detailed inside information about government ministers and the ALP.

    The cable, covering a meeting on the 11th June 2009, appears to be in part an audition piece, with Shorten presenting his Prime Ministerial credentials to the US Consul General. In the leaked document he talks about his ambition, criticises the union movement, plays up his friendship with Melbourne business elites, and is disappointed about being overlooked in a recent cabinet reshuffle.

  42. kevin1
    February 10th, 2014 at 15:08 | #42

    @Uncle Milton

    Slam dunk!

  43. jungney
    February 10th, 2014 at 15:22 | #43

    @Uncle Milton

    Are you sure the informant was Shorten? Or may it have been Arbib who was also exposed as reporting regularly to the yanks? I don’t think that Shorten is the first ALP leader to have submitted a job app. to the US prior to being elected. I recall Hawke receiving a yankee scholarship during which period he apparently impressed them with his co-operative attitude.

  44. paul walter
    February 10th, 2014 at 15:51 | #44

    Everything changes and nothing.@Uncle Milton

  45. Uncle Milton
    February 10th, 2014 at 15:53 | #45


    The Crikey story goes on to say that the Americans’ interlocutor tried to impress his audience by telling them he has an MBA from the Melbourne Business School. That would be Shorten.

  46. Paul Norton
    February 10th, 2014 at 16:36 | #46

    In response to Jim Rose @15 in particular, but also picking up on points made by others, WWII didn’t end in June 1941. In the four years following the start of Operation Barbarossa until the war ended most Australians saw it as extremely important that the Soviet Union should win on the Eastern Front and were glad when it eventually did so. Conservative stalwart Sir Frank Packer’s newspapers published cartoons depicting Stalin as a conquering hero borne victoriously across Eastern Europe into Germany riding “six white horses” that bore the names of Zhukov, Budenny and other Red Army generals – I know because I’ve seen copies of the newspapers that carried the cartoon. That was the mood of the times, and one didn’t need to be left-wing, let alone communist or pro-communist, to partake of it.

  47. Paul Norton
    February 10th, 2014 at 16:39 | #47

    And in the spirit of the past having many surprises in store, guess which party published a statement on the front page of its national newspaper applauding Israel’s victory over the “semi-barbaric Arab kingdoms” in 1948.

  48. Uncle Milton
    February 10th, 2014 at 16:57 | #48

    @Paul Norton

    That was when Israel was seen as much as a socialist project as a Zionist one.

  49. jungney
    February 10th, 2014 at 17:14 | #49

    @Uncle Milton

    Yair, ok then. Well, who’s surprised?

  50. jungney
    February 10th, 2014 at 17:23 | #50

    FWIW: it’s still happening, the spook state persecution of democratic worker citizens. I have no doubt that the eight hour interview to which I was subject by an ex-deputy Commissioner of Police, NSW, one who was booted out for reasons of corruption, was informed by the department’s alarm (NSW Child Protection) at the ‘discovery’ of my substantial links with the Aboriginal community extending back to the 1970’s and the period of my membership of the CPA.

    I also have no doubt that there are spooks all over the Australian environment movement especially the anti-coal and anti-csg mobs. Pinkerton’s, whose history ought to make any democrat shudder, is active in Australia as are the Feds as infiltrators. Watch out for fit blondes with pony tails for whom no-one can account.

  51. kevin1
    February 10th, 2014 at 17:46 | #51

    ” Watch out for fit blondes with pony tails for whom no-one can account.”

    Good one! I have a feeling that the expansion and professionalisation of quasi-spookdom post 9-11, and the evaporation of class-based left-right identity and other tribalisms leads to a new and untroubled self-confidence amongst recent generations who identify with bourgeois liberal ideas of national interest, personal freedom and individualism as transcendent and universal ideals, which are worth fighting for. That last element isptivational and crucial; it elevates the state (Big Brother) and is dangerous for the rest of us.

  52. kevin1
    February 10th, 2014 at 17:49 | #52

    “Motivational and crucial” is what I meant.

  53. jungney
    February 10th, 2014 at 18:23 | #53


    With no disrespect, I’ll paraphrase what you’ve written above of the ‘new class’ as:

    These people believe in nothing but personal advancement which ambition is the sin qua non of neoliberalism.

  54. Megan
    February 10th, 2014 at 18:52 | #54


    The informant was definitely pie-face himself.

    The cable is dated Friday 12 June, 2009 and is available on the internet:

    Put the following into a search:

    Cable reference id: #09MELBOURNE69

    and you’ll get it. Here’s part of it:

    During a June 11 meeting, Shorten told Consul General that “he did not take this job to stand still.” He explained that he had been overlooked for promotion in Prime Minister Rudd’s June 6 cabinet reshuffle (Ref. A) in order to keep the geographical balance in the cabinet between Victoria and New South Wales. (Comment: Despite words to the contrary, Shorten appeared disappointed while he was discussing this topic. End comment.) According to Shorten, 10 of the 30 cabinet positions are held by Victorians and the two recent vacancies came from New South Wales, which required the Prime Minister to promote New South Welshmen Chris Bowen and Jason Clare. ¶3. (SBU) Shorten said that he is deeply influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. and quoted from several of his speeches in our meeting with him. While National Secretary of the powerful Australian Workers’ Union, he spent time in the United States collaborating with the United Steel Workers’ union; his successor Paul Howes has since carried this relationship forward. Along with Senator Stephen Conroy, he leads the Victorian wing of the Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) right-leaning faction formally known as Labor Unity (Ref. B for additional details). He is widely known for his pro-U.S. stance. ¶4. (SBU) Bill Shorten is part of a new generation of articulate, young labor union leaders which includes South Australian MP Mark Butler and Victorian MP Richard Marles who were both promoted to Parliamentary Secretaries in the June 6 reshuffle. Shorten was highly critical, however, of current Australian union leadership, saying that there have been insufficient efforts spent on grooming the next generation of leaders. He has an MBA from Melbourne University, was close to the late packaging mogul Richard Pratt, and said that in comparison to other union leaders, he is willing to listen to business concerns.

  55. kevin1
    February 10th, 2014 at 18:52 | #55


    Of course, it IS disrespectful, and unnecessary. Say what YOU want to say, please don’t put your words into my mouth (and get your Latin right too).

  56. jungney
    February 10th, 2014 at 19:03 | #56

    Yairs, ok then. I’ll stand corrected on several fronts then 🙂

  57. Jim Rose
    February 10th, 2014 at 19:17 | #57

    see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Labor_Party for a communist rump controlling an official state labor party in 1940 and promoting the interests of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

    This official NSW labour party was suspended by the federal executive in august 1940 so it reformed as the State Labor Party which later merged with the Communist Party in 1944,

    in 1955, about 50 members of state and federal parliaments defected to form the Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist)

  58. kevin1
    February 10th, 2014 at 19:50 | #58

    @Jim Rose

    I won’t respond to the systematic silliness of JR, and his backroom scholastic “learning”. (I don’t get my morals from monks either.)

    But when I was an ALP and YLA (Young Labor) member in the early 70s, it was a very diverse organisation, a social microcosm of “thinking people”, with vigorous debate about the future that was probably it’s main virtue, but JR wouldn’t understand how progressive and disruptive to conventional thinking this experience can be. Clarifying and fighting for your ideas in a challenging forum is stimulating and educational if you’re open to argument, when it includes

    activists in anti-war, anti-conscription, progressive education, environmental movements:
    Groupers (NCC),
    Socialist Left (SL) faction which was more left wing than the moderate CPA and included Trotskyists of various shades – the Victorian Labor College under Ted Tripp was a training school for working-class radicals,
    ex-CPA (mainly from 1956) reformists
    prominent union leaders like George Crawford Plumbers Union, Percy Johnston and Jim Roulston AMWU, and many others
    academics in history, engineering, economics – I don’t need to name them
    WL (Womens Liberation
    factional leaders like Bill Hartley, Bob Hogg (described as “cankers on the party” by Hawke), Robert Ray on the right.

    Certainly there were loads of interesting people in the ALP, and you could bowl up to them and talk about issues. Why? Because democratic voting means there are votes to be harvested everywhere, and they all count equally.

  59. Paul Norton
    February 10th, 2014 at 20:05 | #59

    kevin1, the Young Labor you’ve described bears an uncanny resemblance to the one that my old mentor Ted Murphy says he was involved in.

  60. kevin1
    February 10th, 2014 at 20:07 | #60

    @Paul Norton

    and your point is?

  61. kevin1
    February 10th, 2014 at 20:20 | #61

    @Paul Norton

    Funny how Robert Ray was originally described by Paul Keating (NSW Right) as “that fat Indian”. Yes he did have darker skin, but was a Victorian although in the same national faction, but when you have no principles, like the Right, then being top dog matters – perhaps this is an example of “the narcissism of small differences”, a general human trait which politics displays most evidently.

    Ray was a taxi-driver before entering parliament, as I recall, perhaps a sign of the democratic, non-status-conscious ALP of the time (Libs had been in since 1949).

  62. kevin1
    February 10th, 2014 at 20:47 | #62

    @Paul Norton

    Sorry, I sounded a bit rude. I was thinking at the time – I don’t need Ted Murphy to validate my experience (never met the guy). What did Ted have to say?

  63. Megan
    February 11th, 2014 at 00:16 | #63

    Speaking of invasive state surveillance, Greenwald etc…. have a new site to counter the establishment media lies:


    I have been banned from putting links in comments, but those of you who still have functioning brains can work out how to see it, and those of you who don’t – well there is a reason you fit that description.

  64. Jim Rose
    February 11th, 2014 at 06:57 | #64

    @kevin1 Thanks for agreeing that there was extensive entryism of communists into the ALP.

    Communists have no place in the Labor Party because they are not committed to democracy. Communists advocate the murder of their political opponents.

    Have you forgotten that communists are fighting a class war to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat?

  65. Paul Norton
    February 11th, 2014 at 07:39 | #65

    Ted had vivid memories of Robert Ray in the first half of the 1970s as the bombthrower of the Right in Young Labor, and when he spoke about Ray it was one of the few times I’ve heard Ted express personal dislike of a political adversary. At the time Ted himself was a member of the Socialist Youth Alliance engaged in entrism, and he was big on supporting the Palestinians which was always going to get a reaction from someone like Ray who had the Victorian Right’s Israel limerence. Ted was smart enough to slough off his SYA membership by the time he turned 18 and became a bona fide ALP Left activist and the immediate past Assistant National Secretary of my union.

  66. Paul Norton
    February 11th, 2014 at 08:01 | #66

    Well, if we’re going to judge people politically by events quite some time before most of us were born, why stop at the 1930s or 1940s? Why not go back to the 1860s when the Communists (notably Karl Marx) opposed slavery and the US Democrats supported it?

  67. kevin1
    February 11th, 2014 at 09:42 | #67

    @Jim Rose

    Hmm. Entrism. Joining a group whose objectives you don’t support in order to influence its members towards an opposed position. Attempting this through relentless propaganda, repetition of opposite themes and citation of favored gurus and texts. Lofty didacticism which bores people to death.

    Jim, I’ll defer to your expertise in this area. Glad to see the glimmerings of a sense of humour! Hope you can keep it up.

  68. Julie Thomas
    February 11th, 2014 at 09:59 | #68

    @Jim Rose

    “Have you forgotten that communists are fighting a class war to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat?”

    We communists have changed tactics and we are fighting the class war from the bottom up this time and we won’t dictate, we will shame and shape you into being decent human beings who will want to be nice not greedy selfish and judgemental type people.

    Seriously, I think that my local state MP, is turning communist. In the local 6 page weekly local newsletter – which used to be only 4 pages last year – that’s progress – Ray Hopper, member for Condamine, a previous LNP member writes in this weeks issue;

    “Recently, we have had the call from the LNP for candidates to come forward for the pre-selection for the seat of Condamine.

    I certainly won’t be taking this lightly, as the last thing the seat of Condamine needs is a Member who wags their tail in front of the Premier hoping to get a pat.

    We have serious issues facing the seat of Condamine and if by change a “yes” person wins this seat, we will see our prime agricultural land go under Coal Seam Gas.

    We will also see the Liberal power of the rich get richer and look after their mates.

    The normal everyday person must be looked after, which has been my plight for the last 14 years.”

    LOL poor Ray and his plight! But he is supposed to be a member of PUP and yet, no mention of this affiliation on his column heading?

  69. jungney
    February 11th, 2014 at 10:09 | #69

    @Jim Rose

    Good to see you keeping the cold war alive.

    In fact I don’t know any communists or even socialists any more. Those of us who made the effort to study the failures of actually existing socialism usually made a rapid conversion to a pro-democracy position. Defending and extending democracy is the radical project these days given the way it is being eroded by the right. In any event it is my view that there is no ‘socialist’ objective that couldn’t be achieved in a functioning democracy.

  70. Ivor
    February 11th, 2014 at 14:55 | #70

    Jim Rose :
    @kevin1 Thanks for agreeing that there was extensive entryism of communists into the ALP.
    Communists have no place in the Labor Party because they are not committed to democracy. Communists advocate the murder of their political opponents.
    Have you forgotten that communists are fighting a class war to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat?

    Do we have to put up with this uneducated, misinformed, lunacy?

    There are communists in parliament in;

    Czech R.
    Sri lanka

    What Rose hides is the fact that capitalism actually did more covert entryism into popular movements of all types than any communist entryism. In fact they simply joined as is the right of every person. It was capitalism (and churches) that deliberately used paid spies to corrupt and disrupt progressive and labour movements of all types.

    See wikipedia on COINTELPRO for the evidence.

  71. Fran Barlow
    February 11th, 2014 at 16:51 | #71

    Jim Rose

    Have you forgotten that commun!sts are fighting a class war to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat?

    That doesn’t mean what many of those unacquainted with the phrase think it means. In Marxist terms, it referred to a society in which the state acted to protect the property forms through which the workers determined production, distribution and exchange. It was coined in express counter-position to Capitalism “The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”.

    In so far as communists continue to press for the D of the P this is simply another formulation of the appeal to put an end to the rule of capital by having a state centred on the interests of the producers.

  72. zoot
    February 11th, 2014 at 17:38 | #72

    Communists advocate the murder of their political opponents.

    So Pinochet was listening to the communists!! It all falls into place now.

  73. Geoff Andrews
    February 11th, 2014 at 18:06 | #73

    @Fran Barlow
    I was teasing, Fran (said he, cowering on the floor in the corner, warding off expected barbs of outraged PC).
    I had forgotten that 20 (?) years ago, most young women ripped through Sydney on motorbikes trying to shake off a couple of ASIO heavies; that most young people at some stage have offered to insert a tyre lever in the orifice of choice of the said heavies and, in the vernacular of the time, suggested that they go home to their wives and family. All very boring and ho-hum – not an extreme in sight.
    Still working through your four part multiple choice question: No 1 is such an obvious choice I know it’s a trick question, so I go for No 4 because I don’t have a clue what you mean.
    I liked your comment #20 today. Still got some non-extremist fire in the belly, eh?
    You must have been pretty chuffed (as I would be) to be labelled a pedant by Paul Walter?

  74. kevin1
    February 11th, 2014 at 18:27 | #74


    Who said this in 1980, seven years after brutal dictator Pinochet seized power? “”Chile is not a politically free system, and I do not condone the system. But the people there are freer than the people in Communist societies because government plays a smaller role.” Milton Friedman.

    There is quite a debate about his culpability in collaborating with the regime when it was well-known what its murderous policies were. It seems he disclaimed political endorsement of Pinochet, being just an “independent economic adviser” advising on policy, and including considerations of welfare consequences (which he must know were never going to fly). He also advised repressive Communist governments.

    Perhaps this is the classic technocratic position – “little room for politics here,but if the government adopts my policy recommendations it will generate social benefit.” Although there are judgement calls to be made, to give succour and credence to a repressive and evil dictatorship because it might cherry-pick something socially beneficial from your recommendations, which also politically advantages and extends its life, seems an abrogation of responsibility to me. There are times when it betrays human decency to prioritise economic policy influence over murderous and regressive objectives.

  75. kevin1
    February 11th, 2014 at 18:40 | #75

    @Geoff Andrews

    Bit concerned that “extremism” is becoming a pejorative term amongst some on this blog: is this a psychological need for respectability? Approval by the “median voter”?

    I’ll stand up for 180 degree vision, if you don’t understand the extreme positions and have a satisfactory intellectual answer to them, you’re not a real thinker and should get out of the kitchen. Galileo, Einstein, Mandela, Marx, Trotsky, were not put off by taboos and fear of criticism.

  76. Fran Barlow
    February 11th, 2014 at 19:27 | #76

    @Geoff Andrews
    1. There’s a difference between philosophy and lifestyle choice. Sometimes they overlap, but my ideas weren’t extremist. Then again, I find little substantive use for the term. If I’m characterising something, an absolute term is to be preferred. I recall reading somewhere — maybe it was Madison — that extremism in defence of liberty was no vice and moderation in the face of tyranny was no virtue. I suppose extremism might describe anything. FTR that would be 35 years ago.

    2. I believe there were only three options, not four.

    3. Paul is right. I am a pedant. I like things how I like them, and how I like them is tidy. That’s probably a schoolteacher thing, although it’s possible I was drawn to school teaching in part because of my love of tidiness. Things should be called by their right names. Principles should be carefully specified and cohere. People should understand and respect each other’s rights.

  77. Fran Barlow
    February 11th, 2014 at 19:31 | #77

    Oops still automod:

    @Geoff Andrews
    1. There’s a difference between philosophy and lifestyle choice. Sometimes they overlap, but my ideas weren’t extremist. Then again, I find little substantive use for the term. If I’m characterising something, an absolute term is to be preferred. I recall reading somewhere — maybe it was Madison — that extremism in defence of liberty was no vice and moderation in the face of t/ranny was no virtue. I suppose extremism might describe anything. FTR that would be 35 years ago.
    2. I believe there were only three options, not four.
    3. Paul is right. I am a pedant. I like things how I like them, and how I like them is tidy. That’s probably a schoolteacher thing, although it’s possible I was drawn to school teaching in part because of my love of tidiness. Things should be called by their right names. Principles should be carefully specified and cohere. People should understand and respect each other’s rights.

  78. Fran Barlow
    February 11th, 2014 at 19:33 | #78

    Oops still still automod:
    @Geoff Andrews
    1. There’s a difference between philosophy and lifestyle choice. Sometimes they overlap, but my ideas weren’t extremist. Then again, I find little substantive use for the term. If I’m characterising something, an absolute term is to be preferred. I recall reading somewhere — maybe it was Madison — that extremism in defence of liberty was no vice and moderation in the face of t/ranny was no virtue. I suppose extremism might describe anything. FTR that would be 35 years ago.

  79. Fran Barlow
    February 11th, 2014 at 19:34 | #79

    2. I believe there were only three options, not four.
    3. Paul is right. I am a pedant. I like things how I like them, and how I like them is tidy. That’s probably a schoolteacher thing, although it’s possible …

  80. Fran Barlow
    February 11th, 2014 at 19:35 | #80

    I was drawn to school teaching in part because of my love of tidiness. Things should be called by their right names.

  81. Fran Barlow
    February 11th, 2014 at 19:36 | #81

    Principles should be carefully specified and cohere.

  82. Fran Barlow
    February 11th, 2014 at 19:36 | #82

    People should understand and respect each other’s rights.

  83. paul walter
    February 11th, 2014 at 20:43 | #83

    Teasing, Fran.. we know its been leveled by uncharitable souls in the past..

    If a Fran post is up I find time for it, there is usually substance involved, generally set out logically and if the post is long, that is usually because you are exploring some thing a bit deeper than others have been able to identify, and are trying to reduce complexity to comprehensibility, as the LP people tried to do.

  84. paul walter
    February 11th, 2014 at 20:47 | #84

    Reducing, I respect you because you do a lot of grunt work people like myself would shy away from, for an easier life.

    Thinking can be HARD work, but you seem to be one willing to take it on. I honor that, regardless of what you make of Paul Walter from past conversations on tricky, complex real world problems.

  85. Fran Barlow
    February 11th, 2014 at 21:14 | #85

    @paul walter

    Glad you get something from them Paul.

  86. paul walter
    February 11th, 2014 at 21:16 | #86

    If someone like me can, you could be influencing a lot of people.

  87. J-D
    February 12th, 2014 at 16:23 | #87

    @Fran Barlow
    A comical misattribution. ‘I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!’ is not a quote from Madison, but from Barry Goldwater’s speech accepting the Presidential nomination of the 1964 Republican National Convention.

  88. Fran Barlow
    February 12th, 2014 at 18:20 | #88


    Thanks for the correction. I was merely making the point though that charges of extremism are at best vacuous, given that one person’s extremism may be more defensible than another’s moderation.

  89. Jim Rose
    February 12th, 2014 at 20:58 | #89

    @Ivor ironically I have posted that very same list to show that communist parties do well overseas but bomb at the ballot box in australia.

    the Trots in the Uk attract less votes that the monstor raving looney party

    I also pointed out in such earlier posts that democracy makes democractic socialism pointless because electoral power is fleeting: sooner or latter, the left wing parties representing the socialist alternative lose power and capitalism is resorted.

    Under pension fund socialism, with the majority of the share market owned by superannuation funds, any call for wide-spread nationalisations is political suicide. The same for re-nationalisation later when the left-parties get another turn in office.

    p.s. were you booing or cheering when ordinary Germans tore down the Berlin Wall with their bare hands. The first ever popular revolution in a communist country!

  90. JKUU
    February 13th, 2014 at 07:09 | #90

    Under moderation for 24 hours. I wonder why? Because I have a job, life etc. As to what triggers automoderation, who knows? – JQ

    “[E]xtremism in defence of liberty [is] no vice and moderation in the face of tyranny [is] no virtue” goes all the way back to Marcus Tullius Cicero.

    In more recent times, Barry Goldwater in his acceptance speech for the 1964 Republican Presidential candidate said: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” He was buried in a landslide the following November.

  91. Paul Norton
    February 13th, 2014 at 07:51 | #91

    p.s. were you booing or cheering when ordinary Germans tore down the Berlin Wall with their bare hands. The first ever popular revolution in a communist country!

    I was cheering, but as a point of historical fact it wasn’t even the first popular revolution in East Germany (there was one in 1953). The first popular revolution in a communist country was the Kronstadt uprising in 1921.

  92. Fran Barlow
    February 13th, 2014 at 11:10 | #92

    @Paul Norton

    It’s difficult to know with confidence how “popular” the Kronstadt event was.

    Re East Germany in 1989 …

    I was glad the wall came down, and therewith the hated Stasi and Stalinist regime, yet hopeful that the proverbial baby would not be thrown out with the bathwater, and that a new revolution would lay the foundations for a workers’ republic, shaping the de-stalinisation movement in Comecon in a positive direction.

    That instead, the resultant countries simply surrendered to capitalism, further immiserating their working people in most cases, was a factor in my rejection of Trotsky|sm as a credible alternative to capitalism. In none of these countries did the fall of Stalinism provoke even a modest surge in interest in revolutionary soc|alist politics, as it should have, in theory. What this suggested was that capitalism had not fully exhausted all of its work. It further reminded me that one cannot wish for social systems that are beyond the capacity of working people to imagine, and that what it is possible for working people to imagine is a consequence of their lived experience of systems and their attempts to extract from it social justice. Workingclass rule, unlike capitalism, implies a conscious set of political choices both before and after the event, and apt vehicles through which these choices can be realised and sustained. This was not tolerated by Stalinist autarky — ergo, only capitalism in some form or another could replace it. In the eyes of the working people, all that could be made of ‘socialism’ was its debauched caricature. They were never knocking on our door for guidance.

  93. jungney
    February 13th, 2014 at 14:53 | #93

    Indeed Paul Norton. The first demand of the Kronstadt mutineers included a claim for ‘free electoral propaganda’ in an attempt to counter wealth, authority and class privilege. If the parties of social democracy had been awake at the time then maybe we wouldn’t have to be dealing with Citizen Rupert.

    Fran, it was popular enough for the Bolshevik forces to lose some 10,000 troops in the first days of fighting, of a force of 60,000, sent to suppress Kronstadt. Would greater numbers of dead count as evidence of the popularity of the uprising in your books?

  94. Fran Barlow
    February 13th, 2014 at 15:00 | #94


    Would greater numbers of dead count as evidence of the popularity of the uprising in your books?

    No, it wouldn’t. Popularity would describe the degree to which the event was supported by the population as a whole. That’s difficult to judge, though I suspect few of the populace of Russia at the time would have been able to form an opinion about it one way or the other.
    Come to that, I’m not even sure all of the insurgents would have been able to give an account of the warrant for their acts.

  95. jungney
    February 13th, 2014 at 16:25 | #95

    @Fran Barlow

    Well Fran, how could we understand the complexity, or simplicity, of the political consciousness of peasants and insurgents of the time. Through music and art only, I suspect. We can’t expect the past to conform to modernist sensibilities and rationality and then condemn the past when we find it wanting.

  96. Jim Rose
    February 13th, 2014 at 18:58 | #96
  97. Fran Barlow
    February 13th, 2014 at 20:34 | #97


    Let’s keep in mind that on all sides at the time, both numeracy and literacy were very much the exception rather than the rule. Accurate, timely and salient information would have been hard even for the literate to obtain, even in the major population centres. Outside of the cities rumours and half truth would have predominated.

    Regardless of one’s politics at that time, it’s hard to imagine that the Kronstadt rebels could have formed a considered view about the calculus in the enterprise they were undertaking, and given the comparative speed with which the events unfolded, informed by the brutality of the Civil War, it’s likely that many felt they had no choice but to fight alongside those nesting acting the rebellion, regardless of where reason and justice lay in the matter.

    These days, we know about “wedge politics” and it would be a strange thing indeed if the Kronstadt rebels weren’t manipulated into this rebellion by enemies of the Bolshevik power.

    That’s not to say that the Bolsheviks were rational actors between late 1917 and 1921. As I’ve said many a time, their view of what was possible was seriously flawed, and their actions not even tactically consistent with their own ostensible view of their place in the struggle of the world proletariat. They could and should have taken a minimalist position with respect to social change in post-Kerensky Russia. After all, if one believes that Russia is merely the first breach in the world capitalist system, but that socialism in backward Russia was impossible this side of the victory of the proletariat in a number of the most important capitalist countries, then it follows that rather than attempting some sort of ill-considered and breakneck rush to collectivist organisation, built largely by people who were recently illiterate rural labourers, and that in the midst of the disruption of the still very primitive agriculture by the war and the prevailing weather, which they had to abandon anyway, but rather by a measured return of the peasants to the land, a phased reform of land tenure, a re-establishment of light industry focused on servicing agriculture and of course, the establishment of the CA as a bridge to the SRs. This would have run the wedge against the Whites and allowed the Bolsheviks to secure and deploy food aid to stave off hunger in the cities.

    If the revolution did come in the west, concessions to capitalism would be moot, and certainly, the chances would have been better had they signed a peace with Germany as soon as it had been proffered. If the revolution did not come, then they would still stand better not just in Russia, but to render their European comrades guidance. Fighting a brutal civil war was extremely taxing as was foreign intervention, and they paid a high price for this.

    The Bolsheviks had no choice but to sweep aside Kerensky, but having done so, they overreached and a terrible tragedy followed.

  98. J-D
    February 14th, 2014 at 09:58 | #98

    Many sources on the Web (and elsewhere too, no doubt) attribute that line about extremism and moderation, or something similar, to Cicero, but I can’t find one that names a particular written work or speech of Cicero’s as the source. Wikiquote, which is scrupulous about giving citations, doesn’t include it in its list of Cicero quotations. I have read on the Web, though, that Harry Jaffa, reportedly the author of Goldwater’s speech, denies getting the idea from Cicero, although flattered by the mistake.

  99. jungney
    February 14th, 2014 at 12:07 | #99

    @Fran Barlow

    I agree with pretty much all you’ve said but disagree over the degree of influence of the White Russian forces at Kronstadt. I think the key to understanding the intentions of the rebels is the Petropavlovsk resolution that presents quite reasonable demands and one’s which would not be out of place in a modern democracy.

  100. JKUU
    February 14th, 2014 at 13:00 | #100

    I can’t help further, J-D, in providing details on the attribution to Cicero. I suspected when reading Fran’s comment, however, that it did not originate with Madison. So, I too did a web search.

    Madison is a favorite statesman of mine: federalist, a principal author of the US Constitution — particularly the Bill of Rights, and of course, he was the 4th US President. Slave ownership was a blemish on his record. A good quote from Madison, one that makes me smile is “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Amen.

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