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  Issue No 36 Official Organ of LaborNet 22 October 1999  





How the Cunning Fox Survived

By Rohan Cahill

Len Fox recently turned 94. He celebrated the event by sending out copies of his latest publication to friends; a booklet of his selected pencil and crayon sketches since 1925, with autobiographical commentaries.

Author of more than 40 books on economics, history, biography and poetry, Len Fox is one of the few surviving journalists and writers whose work was an integral and crucial part of Australian Left politics and culture prior to, and during World War 2 and the Cold War---people like Rupert Lockwood, Edgar Ross, Bill Wood, George Farwell, Paul Moline.

Fox was born in 1905 and grew up against the backdrop of his family's Jewish and Irish-Scottish-North English origins in Melbourne's Eastern suburbs. Educated in private schools and at Melbourne University, he graduated in science, and with a Diploma of Education worked as a private school teacher.

A developing awareness in the late 1920s and early 1930s that the world was deeply troubled and that modern life posed significant moral and ethical questions, led Fox to an interest in what is now termed 'progressive' education.

The key to creating a better world was through child centred schooling, and education that explored notions of individuality, creativity, communality, and freedom, and which took account of modern psychological theory.

With a view to perhaps teaching at a progressive school, Fox went to England in 1933 to learn from leading progressive practitioners like Dora Russell and A. S. Neill. However the extremes of the Depression, significant events like the Hunger Marches, a visit to Nazi Germany, and exposure to socialist thought, politicised the burgeoning educationist.

Returning to Melbourne in 1934 Fox became active in the national consciousness raising Movement Against War and Fascism, and soon became Secretary of its Victorian Branch. He joined the Communist Party (CPA) the following year. For the rest of his life Fox earned his living on the Left, increasingly as an intellectual and writer.

When Australians mobilised in support of the Spanish Republic in its fight against Fascism, Fox was active on the Victorian Spanish Relief Committee. Here he was influenced by the broad cultural approach of the Committee president, well-known writer Nettie Palmer.

In 1940 Fox transferred to Sydney, and journalism. The war years were spent on the lively four page Leftist weekly Progress. With a circulation of 20,000 Progress was one of the few legal sources of Left information and perspective in heavily censored times. The paper folded in 1946.

During the early 1950s Fox edited the four page weekly magazine section of the

communist newspaper Tribune, before joining editor Edgar Ross on Common Cause, weekly newspaper of the Miners' Federation. Following the retirement of Ross, Fox edited the paper until his own retirement in 1970.

There was a two year break, in 1956-1957, when Fox and his wife, the playwright Mona Brand, worked in North Vietnam helping the government with the English language which had assumed political importance as the language of the International Commission supervising the divided country's scheduled 1956 elections.

Aside from journalism, Fox was a widely read pamphleteer during the late 1930s and 1940s on political, economic and historical matters. His pamphlets were between 4000 and 9000 words in length, and based on extensive research; aimed at both working and middle class audiences, the language was accessible, the intention tended to be educational rather than agitational, the style dogma and jargon free.

Fox was also part of a cultural minority in the 1940s and 1950s which argued that Australia had a national culture, and directed significant energies to identifying and promoting this. He did important research and writing leading to the recognition and honouring of the Eureka Flag.

In the face of dominant cultural cringe attitudes, and academic, media and political hostilities, people like Fox, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Brian Fitzpatrick, Stephen Murray-Smith, Helen Palmer, Ian Turner, Russel Ward, did much of the spade work leading to the post 1960s recognition of, and interest in, Australian culture.

As a communist Fox identified with broad Left forces. Although he remained in the party until 1970, he was variously at odds with leaderships that favoured doctrinaire narrowness.

During the 1960s and 1970s Fox and Brand were active in a number of committees for Aboriginal Advancement whose campaigning led to major progressive changes in Australian legislation and public opinion.

The bulk of Fox's literary output has taken place since 1970, reflecting a wide range of interests, from the old windmills of colonial Sydney through to the impact of multinationals on the Australian economy. Two autobiographical works, Broad Left, Narrow Left (1982) and Australians on the Left (1996), are increasingly being drawn upon by historical researchers.

Looking back at his life on the Left, the old writer stresses the value of a broad and tolerant approach in personal life and politics, and a wide interest in cultural matters. In his recent writing, he has stressed the need for broad Left alliances (as was achieved in South Africa) for democracy, internationalism and world peace--with the importance for Australians of Aboriginal Reconciliation and friendship with the Asian peoples.


*    Got a history piece? Contact history editor Dr Lucy Taksa

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 36 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: When All’s Not WEL
Suzanne Hammond explains how the federal government’s decision to cut off funding to the Womens’ Electoral Lobby wil impact on all women.
*  Republic: The Great Constitutional Swindle
In an upcoming book, Peter Botsman argues the blanding out of Australian consitutional history is one of the big barriers to the Republican cause.
*  Unions: Beaten by the Clock
Ron Callus from ACIRRT counts the social cost of increased working hours.
*  International: Pakistan Military Urged to Protect Workers' Rights
The ICFTU is urging General Pervez Musharraf, who yesterday seized power in a military coup, to take urgent steps to ensure a return to constitutional rule in the shortest possible time.
*  History: How the Cunning Fox Survived
Len Fox recently turned 94. He celebrated the event by sending out copies of his latest publication to friends; a booklet of his selected pencil and crayon sketches since 1925, with autobiographical commentaries.
*  Satire: Direct Electionists to Keep Voting No
Pro-direct election republicans who plan to vote “no” in the upcoming referendum have announced plans to extend their approach to every future election held in Australia.
*  Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
Read the latest issue of Labour review, a resource for union officials and students.
*  Review: Bowing down before Globalzilla
It is my experience that books that have the word "globalization" in the title should be avoided at all costs.

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»  Rock the Republic - It’s Time

»  Guest Report
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