||Issue No. 251||11 February 2005|
Economics: Super Seduction
Interview: Bono and Me
Unions: The Eight Hour Day and the Holy Spirit
Technology: From Widgets to Digits
Education: Dumb and Dumber
Health: No Place for the Young
History: The Work-In That Changed a Nation
Review: Dare to Win
Poetry: Labor's Dreaming
The Locker Room
Morals Beat Hasty Retreat
Uncounted Cost Of Asbestos
Voting Farce Expands
I Beg To Differ
Vale Laurie Aarons 1917-2005
Laurie was highly dedicated, not personally ambitious or power hungry. He acted fearlessly when necessary. He had a certain charisma that attracted people and their loyalty, an eye for talent that would serve the cause, and a keen eye for political turning points.
Had he been asked why he was so dedicated, I think he would have answered: how could one not be in those times? He was born during the First World War, in the year of the Russian Revolution that gave hope to millions amid that slaughter. Of course he did not know those events directly, but like all us baby boomers of those times, he saw as a child many of its human consequences.
There followed a few years of the "roaring twenties", then the suffering and stark injustice of the Great Depression, the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy and Japan, and the opening salvoes of the Second world war in Manchuria, Abyssinia, Austria, Spain and Czechoslovakia.
Laurie decided at an early age to become a "professional revolutionary" as it was then called, though it paid, and sometimes only fitfully, a fraction of that in any other "profession" worthy of the name, and never wavered on that chosen course.
I won't go into many episodes in Laurie's life, but want to mention four particular accomplishments soon after he was elected to the position of General Secretary by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Australia forty years ago. This, incidentally, was a position that he had hoped would go to his colleague and friend, Eddie Robertson, whom he had discovered in the steel industry in Whyalla, but who died before his full potential could be realised.
The first major accomplishment was to discern that the then escalating Vietnam War would be a major political issue in Australia for years to come, and he mobilised the party to initiate what became a broad and mighty movement.
The second was to put an end to the hollow Stalinist rituals that passed for democracy and creative discussion. This he did in the preparations for the 1967 party congress where, unique in the communist world at that time, things were freely said, written and published. This sounded alarm bells in Moscow, but led to genuine efforts to grapple with the real problems and new features of Australian society.
The third was to discern that the time was coming in which it would be possible to challenge the penal powers of the Arbitration Act, which were used to enforce government policies and strengthen the power of local corporations and the burgeoning multinationals. The opportunity came unexpectedly, as opportunities in politics usually do, with the 1969 jailing of Victorian Tramways Union leader, Clarrie O'Shea. This led to a massive trade union response that rendered those penalties inoperative for years.
The fourth was when cataclysmic world events again intervened, with the invasion by the Soviet Union of a reforming and renovating Czechoslakia - the Prague Spring. Shortly before the invasion, the clear threat of it was conveyed to Laurie in a letter from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which was read to him in the Soviet Embassy. When the crunch came we were mentally prepared, knowing that this was a crucial event and that no turning back was possible for us. We were, I believe, the first communist party to make an unequivocal condemnation, one to which we resolutely adhered in face of massive external and some internal pressure.
Later, in 1969, the CPSU convened a world meeting of communist parties aimed at "putting it all behind us" and "getting on with the job" as perceived by Soviet eyes. There, Laurie made the most forthright speech of all, also refusing to sign the issued document.
With China at loggerheads with the Soviet Union and in the grip of Mao's disastrous "Cultural Revolution", communism as a living international movement was already in irreversible decline, conditions that made it eventually impossible for any single communist party to carry on as before, even nationally.
It is perhaps invidious to compare physical and mental courage which includes that of conscience. Both forms of courage are virtues that Laurie abundantly possessed, though he was not greatly called upon to practice the first. But the latter kind of courage is, I think, often harder to exert, because it requires confrontation with developed habits and casts of thought that are not easily stilled, especially when one has to face reproaches, and in some cases vilification, from those who shared those habits with you, but themselves cannot break with them.
To conclude - Laurie exerted himself to the utmost in the great cause to which he had dedicated himself, and what he achieved was considerable indeed. We who survive, for however long or short a time, should learn from his life and experiences. We should diligently probe the practical and theoretical aspects of an Australian and international scene which is of a very different kind from that in which Laurie spent most of his active life.
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