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Shades of Red 1920

By Nancy Mills. Communist Arts Publication. Sydney, 1980.

The 30th October, 1920, in Sydney, was a clear, cool Spring day. In a small hall above Fay’s bookshop, at the corner of Pitt and Liverpool Streets, twenty-six people gathered together.  They represented the two main socialist groups, and their purpose was to amalgamate to establish the Australian Communist party.

One of the groups was the Australian Socialist Party (ASP) among whom was Adela Pankhurst of the famous suffragette family, and her husband Tom Walsh, Secretary of the Seaman’s Union; there was at least one other woman, Christian Jollie-Smith, a lawyer.

The other group was known as the Trades Hall Communists, and among them was Jock Garden, Secretary of the NSW Labour Council, and Bill Earsman, still remembered as a man of great drive and efficiency who was prominent in the Labour College Movement.  Delegates came from Victoria and Queensland, the only one I ever met personally was Guido Barrachi, from Melbourne.

There was excitement in the air, and unbounded enthusiasm.  These ardent twenty-six were taking a giant step, and thousands would follow!

In this immediate post-war Australia, the soldiers had come back from hard times in the trenches to job queues, hard times in the streets.  Men and women in their thousands were attending meetings on the Yarra bank and the Sydney Domain.  The demand then, as now, was for jobs and a decent living wage.

Again, then as now, there were some fiery orators around, Donald Grant of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW); Garden and Earsman too were political magnets.

And above all there was the immediate inspiration of the Russian Revolution. It stayed with us in our hearts for many years; for many, it’s still there.

There was a famous quote from American journalist, Lincoln Steffans: “I’ve seen the future – and it works!”  And the great Negro artist, Paul Robeson, on his first visit to the Soviet Union in 1934, told many times how good it was to have at last found a place where he could walk tall, secure and free, as an equal of any man on earth.

In 1920 the flames of discontent were smouldering, not quite flaring, but the feeling was that the revolution was just around the corner.

In Sydney the Bolshevik contact was direct. Peter Simonoff, first Consol in Australia from the infant USSR, had very discreet talks, night after night, with Garden, Earsman and others.  The meeting on the thirtieth was planned.  The perspective was to get the Party off the ground, and then affiliate with the Comintern (the Communist International).

Billy Earsman was elected Secretary, a popular choice, and the meeting finished, as so many thousands of meetings have done before then, and since, with The Red Flag, and the anthem which, when well sung, can still move to tears: The Internationale.

And so was born the Australian Communist Party.
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