COMRADE ROBERTS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Recollections of a Trotskyite, by Kenneth Gee QC
, June 10, 2006
Recollections of a Trotskyite
by Kenneth Gee QC
(Desert Pea Press)
Softcover: 209 pages
Rec. price: $29.95 (Available from Freedom Publishing Company)Ken Gee was one of the young Australians who, during World War II, drifted into the orbit of the Communist Party while a student at Sydney University.
A product of one of New South Wales' most illustrious schools, Fort Street Boys High School, Ken Gee was in the company of people who would later play prominent roles in Australian society: John (later Sir John) Kerr, the NSW Judge and later Governor-General who sacked Gough Whitlam; Fred Chong, later a Harvard professor; the poet James McAuley; and John Bailey, a pioneer in electronics and head of Amalgamated Wireless.
At the university, he was introduced to Marxism by John Kerr. In the shadow of the Great Depression, "the October Revolution, the utopia we believed had arisen in the Soviet Union, and the towering figure of Joseph Stalin, seemed to confirm that Marx had indeed found the key to human history".
After graduating in law in the late 1930s, he commenced practice as a solicitor, but drifted into the Labor Party, then a battleground between undercover communists and supporters of Jack Lang, twice premier of NSW (1925-57 and 1930-32).
After being expelled from the Labor Party at Lang's initiative, Ken Gee was invited to join the Communist Party. A meeting was held at the offices of the Teachers' Federation, at which he and another neophyte, Alan Dalziel (later secretary to the federal Labor leader, Dr. H.V. Evatt), were invited to join the Communist Party.
Ken Gee and Alan Dalziel were interviewed by Jack Hughes, communist secretary of the Clerks Union, and Sam Lewis, president of the NSW Teachers' Federation.
Because of Stalin's alliance with Nazi Germany in 1939 and the "Show Trials" of old Bolshevik leaders in the Soviet Union, Ken Gee declined to join the Party, instead ending up with the much smaller organisation which followed Leon Trotsky, an instigator of the October 1917 Russian Revolution, who had been exiled by Stalin and assassinated in Mexico by a Stalinist agent in 1940.
Although a small organisation, the Trotskyites themselves contained people who later were to play a prominent role in public life, including Laurie Short, Nick Origlass and Jim ("Diamond Jim") McClelland.
At the Trotskyites' behest, Ken Gee took the name "Comrade Roberts", left his job as a solicitor, and became a boilermaker's assistant, entitling him to membership of the Balmain branch of the Ironworkers' Union, then led by the Trotskyites, but threatened by the Stalinists who ran the Sydney branch and the union nationally.Splintered
This book tells of his years with the Trotskyites, until the group splintered in 1946, after the end of World War II, and most of its members moved away from Trotskyism.
Laurie Short, who had by then become secretary of the Balmain branch of the Ironworkers Union, conducted a long struggle against the communists, becoming a leader of the ALP Industrial Groups which ultimately routed the communists in elections throughout the union in the early 1950s.
"Diamond Jim" McClelland became an industrial barrister, ultimately a Labor senator, and a Minister for Labor in the Whitlam Labor Government.
John Kerr, who never joined the Trotskyites, also became a prominent labour lawyer, later a Judge in New South Wales, and finally Governor-General.
This book will be read with interest by anyone interested in labour history, and by those who seek to understand the power of an idea, even one which is fatally flawed.