In Moscow in the 1930s
How the Comintern was Stalinised
By Ted Tripp
It was in 1917 that I first became a socialist, largely under
impact of the mighty Russian Revolution. The revolution was to change
the course of my life. They were great days, and I take pride in saying
that I became a communist at the age of 17 and remain so to this day.
At the time of the Russian Revolution I of course had no idea
little more than 10 years later I would be selected by the Communist
Party of Australia to be the first Australian student at the Lenin
School in Moscow.
The Russian Revolution shook the world to its foundations. As
news broke through in London, where I had been born in 1900, I was in
an excess of joy. I eagerly read everything on the revolution that I
could get my hands on, particularly the socialist papers.
I got the clear indication at the time of the Russian
that this was the beginning of the new world. It was a tremendous
thrill to me. I didn't know anything about Marx, Engels or Lenin, but
suddenly these loomed into importance.
After reading some of the early pamphlets of Lenin, it started
turn my mind completely into becoming a socialist. I used to walk from
one end of London to the other every week in order to get a socialist
paper — I just had to have that paper. They ran installments in each
issue of Jack Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World, and that inspired
and educated me.
After migrating to Australia I joined the Communist Party of
Australia in the early 1920s. For several years I helped build the CPA
in Townsville and northern Queensland. In the process I was a leading
militant in the railways union in Queensland and a CPA candidate in the
Queensland elections in 1929.
Shortly after the election I received a letter from Ted
central organiser of the CPA. I had been selected to be the CPA student
at the Lenin School in Moscow for a period of three years.
I was overwhelmed with joy, for here was my much-wanted
opportunity to study Marxism and socialist philosophy.
I was approached by a fellow CPA member organiser in
him to take on my tools of trade. "You won't need these any more," he
said, "you're going to be a professional revolutionary."
When I arrived in Sydney I went to Wright. He told me that
got to Britain the Communist Party there would arrange for me to get to
Moscow. "But we haven't got the money," he said.
After the CPA had received the travel money from Moscow, it
spent, presumably on day-to-day matters. When I went to tell Jack
Kavanagh, the CPA general secretary at the time, he was furious. He
told me to attend a political bureau meeting with him, and at that
meeting he moved the suspension of standing orders to discuss the
matter. "We can't run a party like this," he said.
Kavanagh gave Wright a week to produce the 65 pounds needed to
the trip. I was to find out later that the money had been siphoned off
from the accounts of the NSW Trades and Labour Council.
It wasn't long before I was in Britain, but I was not to be
impressed with the British Communist Party. They were quite poorly
organised — and coming from the Australian CP that was saying
something. One of the things that got to me was the complete lack of
interest they had in Australia and the party there.
I saw Harry Pollitt, the British CP leader, and after a
with him he asked me to attend a meeting of the British CP's Colonial
Committee. At the meeting I was intending to give a more thorough
report on the Australian political situation and the role of the CPA.
I was the first at the meeting and was soon to meet a number
Communist Party leaders, some of whom had come across on occasions when
I had lived in London. But they virtually ignored me and weren't really
interested in anything I had to say about the Australian CP. And they
called themselves internationalists!
So, I decided that I would find my own way to the Soviet
any case, Bert Moxon, who was later to become the general secretary of
the CPA, had given me a number of contacts in Europe in case I needed
them. He had only just arrived back from a short visit to the Soviet
Union himself, and he was the last person I saw in Australia before I
embarked for Moscow.
Moxon gave me an important address in Berlin where many CP
stayed on their way to Moscow. When I arrived I found that I was to
stay with Arthur Horner, the famous British miners' leader. As it
turned out, he was a good friend to me and we used to travel around
Berlin together. One had to be very careful in Berlin at that time (the
end of 1929) and you couldn't be seen around too often.
Finally, Horner's papers to get to the Soviet Union came
"Before I go," he said, "I'll take you to the Communist Party
headquarters to get your passport fixed." I went with him to the very
large CP warehouse in Leninstrasse.
Within a few days I was on my way to Moscow via Finland. At
it was dangerous to travel through Poland. I was able to get through to
Moscow without any trouble at all. That was because before I left
Australia Moxon had advised me to place Communist Party papers on the
top of my luggage so that at the Soviet Union border I would be quickly
processed. It worked very well, and I was asked at the border if I knew
what to do when I got to Moscow. "I know only one word," I said, "and
that's Comintern!" The officer replied that would get me there.
Upon arriving in Moscow I went straight to the Anglo-American
secretariat of the Comintern. After presenting my credentials I was
told that I was expected to give a report on Australia to a meeting in
two days time of the executive committee of the Communist International.
I was somewhat nervous about doing this, and I said so. I
was only going to be a student in Moscow. Although I had been in the
CPA for several years at that time, nearly all of it had been spent in
northern Australia, in and around Townsville.
But they wouldn't have it — I was still to give the report.
the office a person was waiting for me. He said that he had heard the
conversation and offered to help me. It turned out that he was a leader
of the Profintern — the Red International of Labour Unions — and he had
a broad knowledge of the Australian labour movement.
In the report to the Comintern leadership there were two
I wished to emphasise. The first concerned the Queensland Resolution on
running candidates against the Labor Party, which was soon to be
applied in NSW by standing CPA candidates against those from the ALP.
I knew that Kavanagh was strongly opposed to this, and because
that his point of view should at least be brought to the attention of
the Comintern leadership. Moxon supported the Queensland Resolution,
however, and this is where he and Kavanagh parted company.
Secondly, it was my opinion that it would greatly assist the
Australian party if they were to send a Comintern official or
representative to Australia.
There was a large crowd in the room when I went to give my
As soon as I began to speak, everyone in the room in all directions was
talking. I thought I had done my dash, and after only a few sentences I
stopped. The chairman told me to keep going, that they were only
interpreting what I was saying. They had little technical equipment for
translating in those days.
It was only a few weeks after the report that I was told that
organiser from the Comintern was being sent to Australia. He was an
American by the name of Harry Wicks, who used the party name Herbert
The American students were anxious to find out who was being
and when I told them it was to be Wicks, a fellow leader of the
Communist Party of the United States, they burst out laughing. "What,"
they said, "He's the greatest no-hoper there is. We have just dumped
him from our leadership." It made me wonder how seriously the Comintern
was taking the CPA. But when I later returned to Australia I was to see
how effective Wicks/Moore had been in helping to Stalinise the CPA.
The Lenin School was situated in what was once a nobleman's
building. The building had been converted into rooms holding three or
four students. Additional sections contained classrooms, a library and
office staff. They had a tremendous library, which was open day and
The Anglo-American sector of the Lenin School consisted of
from Australia, Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia — in all
about 15 to 20 students, with a big group from Britain. The curriculum
consisted of Marxian economics, the materialist conception of history,
philosophy, party structure, strategy and tactics. The method of
teaching was exceptionally good because it made the student his own
At the first meeting each student was given a list which
contained some 10 questions on the subject matter to be discussed.
Underneath were placed the literature and sections of each
which you could obtain help for your answer. When everyone was
satisfied with what had to be done, the class was dismissed for
research on the answers. The notice board would then inform you of when
you conference was to be held, and these would last for days, until the
subject had been exhausted.
Some to the students who had gone to the Lenin School were
opportunists and careerists. They went out of their way to impress in
order to gain a good report and a good job in the party in Britain or
For myself and the New Zealander, who did not have to compete,
was far more satisfactory. I was indeed happy to see that this point
was not lost on all of the tutors. Their opportunity to disclose this
was at the conclusion of the course, when the reports that were to be
sent to the respective countries of the students were read to the
class. A few of them contained the words: "Have wasted their time in
the Soviet Union."
My report was to say: "has studied well in the Soviet Union".
At that time I just went to the school and took in all the
I could. I only knew the bare outlines of the theory of surplus value,
but when you begin to study it, in the ay that it should be studied,
you soon realise the enormity and tremendous value of it as a study.
So I got stuck into it. They would give you a week or two when
could go away and do whatever you liked in studying for a class. But
that was your task, to do that research. And then you were told that,
for example, the political economy group was to meet in a conference.
Our tutor was a Red Army officer who was a very fine Marxian
economist. The tutor would read the questions and ask who wanted the
floor. Well, the British students were very eager to get up and take
the floor, but what they said was a different matter. You could very
well tell that they had done very little study. The Americans tried to
do the same.
It was in this way that I began to see the limitations of
educational conferences at the school, but I still managed to gain
enormously from it all and quietly assimilated the science of Marxism.
However, I wasn't the only one who could see the misuse of the
School, because old Comrade Trotsky was well aware of it too. At one of
the earlier Comintern plenums, Trotsky quoted Stalin as saying that
"our weakest link is the trade unions". Trotsky replied: "And where's
your stongest link — the Hotel Deluxe, and the other places in Moscow
where your students are."
How right Trotsky was with that observation. That summed up,
mind at least, what most other students made of their stay at the Lenin
In my room at the school were an American and two Canadians.
American was to go on to become a central leader of the CPUSA. And
there they were lying in bed with volumes of Capital stuck on their
chests while they were sound asleep. If they weren't in the Hotel
Deluxe, they were to be found in bed.
These were the new leaders of the Communist parties. Their
performance at the Lenin School not only reflected their lack of
interest in Marxist theory, but also the calibre of leadership being
cultivated by the Stalinist leadership of the Third International.
While in Moscow I was able to attend many important meetings
Comintern, including meetings of the executive committee of the
Communist International. One that I recall in detail was the debate
about the production of a daily paper by the British CP. Harry Pollitt
was in Moscow for the meeting and presented a critical report on the
proposal. He pointed out that they only had a few thousand members and
would be unable to financially support a daily paper.
The Russian Comintern leader who had been pushing the project
moved that such a paper be printed. "I cannot believe," he said, "that
in the heart of the British empire we do not have a Bolshevik daily."
Pollitt said, all right, so be it. The British CP couldn't afford it,
didn't feel they could properly use it, and simply didn't want it at
that time. But the Comintern won out.
A few months before I finished the course, the school called
students together in our large auditorium. We were addressed by the
woman comrade who ran the Lenin School. She announced in a loud and
We have just discovered that a faction has been formed of
and Bukharin. We don't know how far it has gone, but it is permeating
the ranks of the party. We are determined that it is going to be wiped
I have received instructions that all students at the school
be examined to see if they have any germs of this faction in them. It
is what we call a party chistca, a party cleansing, which has been
ordered throughout the Soviet Union.
This consisted of a presidium being placed in charge while
were put into a witness box then asked factual questions about their
activity in the Communist Party. It was then left to members of the
respective party to challenge or refute the statements of the "accused".
For the New Zealander and myself, there was no one else from
respective countries. The opportunism of the British and American
students astounded me. You wouldn't credit how they could go at each
other as they did. The Russians just laughed at all of this as they saw
who were the most subservient. They were, however, more interested in
the students from Poland, Lithuania, Finland and other countries
bordering the Soviet Union. They were often in the stand for hours on
We were eventually told that there were gaps in the stories of
students from some of these countries, and they were liquidated in some
way or another.
Later it was learned that Zinoviev and Bukharin had
"confessed" their mistakes and all could breathe freely again.
This "party cleansing" gave me an idea of what the Left
Oppositionists and supporters of Trotsky must have gone through, for
they were "dealt with" far more brutally.
By the time I reached the Lenin School, Trotsky had already
expelled from the Communist Party and exiled from the Soviet Union. No
one at the school — students or tutors — would dare mention Trotsky. I
was the only one who had the audacity to do that. In one of the books
in the Lenin School library there still remained a praiseworthy passage
on Trotsky. I made a reference from this passage to a tutor. He said
that he would have a look into it, but I never heard any more of it.
As far as all the students were concerned, they were
anti-Trotskyists, otherwise they would never have been sent there. I
was perhaps the only exception, and that was because they had never
I had always had the keenest regard for Trotsky. The
campaign had reached Australia not long before I left for the Soviet
Union, and I had not taken it too seriously.
During the course at the Lenin School — which was to have
three years but was cut short to less than two years — we did not study
and of Trotsky's works. The falsification of the history of the Russian
Revolution had already taken place. Trotsky, who along with Lenin had
been the central organiser and leader of the revolution, was not
mentioned throughout our course.
We were being trained as party leaders to be sent back to our
respective countries. And so I returned to Australia to become a
central leader of the Communist Party of Australia only to find myself
in conflict with the Comintern representative and the Stalinist
leadership he had nurtured.
They didn't realise that in sending me to the Lenin School I
taken my assignment seriously and had systematically educated myself in
the theories of Marxism. This understanding of Marxism was to lead me
through the fight with the Stalinists in the CPA and take me into the
newly formed Trotskyist movement.
From Direct Action, November 30, 1978
Notes on Ted Tripp
Ted Tripp was born in 1900 in London and died in Melbourne in
In a 1978 interview with Dave Deutschmann, published in Direct
the newspaper of the Australian Socialist Workers Party, Tripp
describes joining the Communist Party of Australia as a young British
immigrant working as a fitter and turner in the railway workshops in
Townsville, north Queensland.
"Walking down the main street of Townsville," he said, "I saw
to my amazement an old man holding high the Workers Weekly.
"After walking past him a few times, I summoned enough courage
speak to him. That was Harry Wilkes. He as a commercial traveller
around various districts in north Queensland and took with him a
suitcase of communist literature. I went to his room and became
enraptured with his literature."
Tripp was recruited to the CPA by Herbert Moxon, at that time
Brisbane organiser of the CPA, and later to become CPA general
secretary. Tripp and Moxon worked closely together for the next three
Tripp organised the first CPA group in Townsville and
represented the branch at the 1927 CPA conference.
During a state-wide rail strike in 1926, Tripp played a key
organising role, which included producing a daily strike newspaper,
which was distributed throughout the state. It was one of the first
such daily strike newspapers in Australia.
One of the debates at the 1927 CPA conference was over what
known as the Queensland Resolution — whether the CPA should stand
candidates against the Labor Party.
The conference decided the CPA should run its own candidates
in the next Queensland elections.
As one of the three CPA candidates in the elections, Tripp
a large vote, which led the electoral officer to ask whether he wanted
a recount. Tripp told the electoral officer that the result was already
a victory for the CPA and a recount was not necessary. Peter Beilhartz,
from a 1976 interview with Tripp, says Tripp won about 1500 votes
to the ALP candidate's 4000.
This was at a time when CPA support was strong among the
working-class of north Queensland's ports, railways and meatworks.
Two months later, Tripp became the first Australian selected
to attend the Lenin School.
On returning to Australia, Tripp immediately came into
Harry Wicks, the Comintern representative from the CPUSA, who used the
party name Herbert Moore.
Wicks said he thought Tripp had mixed in bad company in Moscow
and he would have to check with the Soviet authorities about him.
Tripp began a national speaking tour describing what he had
the Soviet Union and became a leading propagandist and educator for the
CPA, taking classes for CPA and Young Communist League members in the
major cities, addressing meetings and speaking in support of CPA
Meanwhile, Wicks was moving to exclude Tripp from the CPA
leadership, and even tried to have him suspended from membership, but
the charge was withdrawn when Tripp confronted Wicks at a political
Wicks had already excluded former CPA general secretary Jack
Kavanagh and was about to expel Bert Moxon, the then general secretary.
Tripp survived the 1931 CPA congress, at which he became the
central leader to criticise Comintern policy in Germany, although he
had not at that time read Trotsky's writings on Germany, which didn't
begin to reach Australia until a few weeks later.
In 1932 Tripp was assigned to the Friends of the Soviet Union
became its national secretary. Under his leadership the FOSU grew to
about 7500 members and had a widely circulated magazine, Soviets
Today. He continued travelling the country, addressing meetings on
the Soviet Union and socialism.
Tripp was removed from his position in the FOSU in 1933 and
from the CPA in 1934. Before his expulsion he had been in contact with
the Trotskyist organisation, formed two years earlier.
After joining the Trotskyists in the Workers Party, Tripp
of its leaders, mainly involved in education and propaganda, and around
1937-38, publisher of the Workers Party newspaper, The Militant.
He became a regular Trotskyist speaker at Sydney's Domain, and
spent much time trying to win over members of the CPA.
A few years later he left the Workers Party, and subsequently
began to publish another Trotskyist magazine, Proletarian Review,
based among Trotskyists at Sydney University.
During World War II he moved to Melbourne, became inactive in
Trotskyist movement, but was a militant shop steward in the Federated
From 1945 Tripp was associated with the Victorian Labor
was its secretary from about 1958 to 1978. The Labor College was
founded in 1917 by Guido Baracchi, a founder of the CPA and later an
editor of the Comintern's English-language Inprecor. For a
time, Baracchi was sympathetic to the Trotskyist movement.
In 1978, at the age of 78, Ted Tripp joined the Socialist
Most of these notes are taken from an article 60 years of
struggle for socialism, in Direct Action, October 26, 1978