(Interviewed by Andy Blunden, in 1987
as part of an oral history investigation into the formation and break-up of the WRP)
Because of the conflicts caused in Australia, by its involvement in the Vietnam War, I joined the the Labor Party. A very left branch of the Labor Party, which was accidental, but as it happens, very good. It was in 1970, I was sent as a delegate to the Committee which planned, for about 9 months, the first enormous Moratorium; there was about 100 people on this committee in Melbourne.
At the same time I was going to some classes held by Ted Tripp, not actually going to the Labour College but going to some classes that had been arranged through my branch of the Labor Party. So I was getting some Marxist theory from Ted Tripp, at the same time as going to these meetings every Monday night. The result of that combination was that I became aware fairly quickly that I wanted to look towards revolutionary politics, not to reformist politics; a certain sort of naïve understanding and rejection of the Stalinists as I saw the CP.
I remember very clearly that my reason for that at that stage was fairly simply that they bloc-ed all the time with the right wing of the Labor Party and that was very clear at those meetings. Also when it came to bloc-ing, that bloc would end up with the quackers — all of the obviously non-revolutionary, really right-wing elements. So that the Communist Party and the SPA were doing that bloc, and really the only strength that was coming ,was coming from the Maoists, in the form of the Worker-Student Alliance.
And so, about half way through the period of those meetings, I approached some of the people in WSA, and I said that I was interested, not just in joining but in actually setting up a branch in the Hills, because there were quite a few other people who were interested in WSA as well — some people who were at Monash University, and were not actually members of WSA there but were interested in becoming members. We suggested this Hills branch, which involved some people from the Labor party as well as some students.
So we went ahead and did that, set up a branch of WSA. Then the Melbourne group of Resistance appeared, in the Moratorium meetings, and I was decidedly unimpressed by them. Whilst I was still learning Marxism, if you like, from Ted Tripp — I was a very ‘good student’ of his, he was a very good teacher in fact, and I had a lot of respect and admiration for him, and I knew his Trotskyist history — but the first ‘practising Trots’ that I met were these Resistance people, and I really thought they were horrible. I was very impressionistic, I really thought they were wimps, and their whole presentation was a middle class presentation, which I just rejected out of hand. I had some sort of sense that revolutionary politics involved the working class, and they didn’t have any orientation to the working class at all, and also that they were very ‘wimpy’, that they didn’t actually take strong lines over things. So I saw them as being Trotskyists, and I was very unimpressed by them, and so I was very confident that I wasn’t a Trotskyist. I didn’t on the other hand at all relish the idea of being a Stalinist.
WSA began to tighten up in its Stalinist politics, in its overt Stalinist stuff, not at that stage in the sort of thing you think of as being Stalinist, of selling out and that sort of stuff, but singing songs about how Trotsky got an ice-pick in his head, and isn’t that great, and that sort of stuff. I didn’t like any of that either, largely because I knew Ted Tripp’s history.
Then our branch went into opposition with the rest of WSA. That was over the question of Nixon’s visit to China. Their line changed overnight from US imperialism being the number one enemy, which our branch had been critical of anyway — we said this is incredibly simplistic, that surely the world analysis has a bit more in it than ‘US imperialism is number one enemy’, so we were already taking up these questions with them, we were always at odds with them a bit — then this whole business of Nixon’s visit to China came and US imperialism was no longer the number one enemy, and Japanese militarism was. That was very hard to take, so we went into very open opposition with them over that.
About a year after the beginning of the Moratorium campaigns, I met Ken Mansell and Dave Nadel, who were also in open opposition in WSA, but they openly called themselves Trotskyists, and I also didn’t like them, I don’t know why, I didn’t want to identify with them at all. But I went to a meeting somewhere where Ken Charlton spoke, and I identified very clearly with what Ken Charlton said.
It was as if he was saying what I wanted someone to say. He was making the sort of links between the anti-war movement and the working class revolution that I wanted made. People had made all sorts of links before, but it wasn’t concrete or something. He struck me. Also there was a sort of strength and confidence in the way that he spoke.
Then a bit later, Elvira and I were approached by Ken Mansell, who'd heard through the grape-vine of WSA that we were in opposition, and asked if we were interested in joining the Tocsin group, which at that stage was him, Dave Nadel, Chris Gaffney, Jim Raabe and Bob Dorning, and I think Alan Ryder. It was very wimpish as well — very unorganised, very undisciplined, really just a discussion group which would produce this Tocsin, which was a sweet little discussion paper.
At the time we joined Tocsin, they were already involved with fraternal discussions with Sydney. I think the very first thing we went to was as observers to a weekend conference between Sydney and Melbourne, and the Sydney group seemed to have all the clarity in the world. They had working class perspectives, perspectives for international affiliation, perspectives for a working class paper, aimed at the working class, to be sold outside factories and so forth, and were talking about the different tendencies in the international Trotskyist movement, which I didn’t even know about — it was real eye-opening stuff!
It was a massive attack by the Sydney people on Chris Gaffney in particular. They claimed he was a ‘Trippist’, which meant he was ‘scholastic’, and I agreed with that analysis of Chris Gaffney at the time.
After that conference, Jim Raabe and Alan Ryder took Elvira and me and Gerry off to a café and very seriously and secretly asked us if we'd join their group. So we did.
For me it was very much on the basis that they were in fraternal discussions with Sydney. I don’t think I would have joined if that hadn’t've been the case.
Tocsin group was awful. It used to sit around until three o'clock in the morning having meetings. It was indicative of its time, and meetings of that kind were being held all around the world at that time. Completely undisciplined, but searching for direction, which was the healthy thing.
But then as the fraternal discussions between the states developed, some very serious theoretical work started to take place. It seems like my whole life during that period was spent studying documents collectively with other people. And very clear camps started to be formed. There was a lot of opposition to Sydney, and Sydney raising the international question, and their developing, tentative support for the International Committee. That opposition was coming from Chris mostly, and Jim and Bob Dorning to a lesser extent.
Eventually Sydney started to produce Labour Press, before the founding conference, and the fight was then, whether we were going to start selling Labour Press. It was when Labour Press started to appear that they split off. They split off saying that all this noise about the international crisis was nonsense, there was no international crisis.
All that theoretical work was going on then as well — Capital, gold, about August 15th 1971. I remember that August 15th was very significant, and for quite a long time after being very doubtful about the politics of the IC, that the analysis of August 15 1971 kept me faithful, because it did seem to me that you could see that capitalism was breaking up since then. From my naïve understanding of Capital that made sense.
I don’t remember very much about the founding conference. I remember that before it, Jim travelled around and did a job on Phil, and other people in Sydney. We had very little information in Melbourne about Sydney, we had no reason to mistrust Jim, and he seemed to be leading the fight for affiliation to the International Committee, and so we trusted Jim, basically, with some reservations.
It was a very important period, my political roots were laid down then [1972, before May] and haven’t really changed an awful lot — obviously I've developed and matured, and my understanding has developed and matured, but I don’t think that it’s really changed its direction.
There were certain things about the IC, as represented by the Sydney group at that time, which I saw as being very powerful, and which I still see as being very powerful, though I'm not very articulate about what they are.
Before the Split
I left the SLL twice. The first time, in July 1972, when I was 8 months pregnant. Gerry was the secretary of the Melbourne branch, and he became very demoralised, not disillusioned, just demoralised, and decided to leave. I followed him out. As a result of joining the SLL I suddenly became ‘Gerry’s wife’, which I had never really been before. In fact I was the person who made all the contacts originally. Suddenly, once I was in the League, I was ‘Gerry’s wife’, that was the way it worked.
What I'd hated, and one of the reasons it was easy for me to follow him out, which I'd found really grinding — I was 8 months pregnant, and I was in charge of youth work in Victoria, and so that meant I was out on the streets, talking to 16 year olds, and getting them to come to dances, and all that, which embarrassed me, it just seemed stupid and incongruous.
The other thing was — I sensed a real sort of adoration of Jim Mulgrew which sickened me, and him fostering that, especially in Sydney. You'd go up to Sydney for a conference, and whoever would meet you would spend hours telling you how wonderful Jim was. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Jim, I did. I certainly left with no political differences, feeling weak, both of us feeling that we didn’t meet up to the mark.
Gerry rejoined very soon afterwards, 16 months after, but I didn’t, because by then I had two very small babies, and I was very hostile to that, that I was in that situation with those two tiny babies. That situation continued for about a year. It was obvious that the conflict between Gerry and me was only going to be resolved by me joining, him leaving or us separating. So I agreed to go to a national conference in Melbourne. Elvira, who had left the party too, went to that. We'd stopped speaking to each other, because we'd left the party at different times, but we both rejoined at the end of the conference.
Then again I was involved with youth work. My life became more bearable because I got my turn to get out of the house and do party work, and I wasn’t left constantly alone at home with two tiny babies. There was absolutely no understanding of the difficulties that we were facing, with kids. Jim used to say ‘We're so proud of you. We're always telling people, we've got a family in the party and they both manage to both work in the party’. And I used to think, Jesus, Fucking Great! In the meantime, we're hardly surviving.
Then Healy came. I expected something from Healy.
There are things that you can articulate now, but you can’t articulate when you're inside. You don’t say what you think. Someone like me thinks all the time. I've always got something to say. Often they're wrong, and I know often they're wrong, but I need to say them, and suddenly you find yourself in a situation where you daren’t! Emotionally you just drain and drain and drain.
Healy came, and Healy didn’t really fix things up in fact. Healy seemed to encourage all of the things I'd hated, by example.
Healy did personify in a way also all of those things which are also strong, in the WRP. His public speaking was strong. In public speaking he even made very human references to things which would be possible after revolutions. So he came across as someone who was very powerful, and very determined to see these things through. But also someone who had a human side to what this thing meant. It wasn’t just revolution for the sake of it, because after the revolution all these wonderful human, social things would be possible. Which is all the reasons why I'm a Communist. Those things about him were very reinforcing.
What was the opposite was the way that he behaved internally, towards party members. When he was here we were having schools on Volume 38, and I'd done lots of reading and studied philosophy and the schools seemed very abstract. At the time I wasn’t critical of that. It’s a demoralising thing. Suddenly you're not coping with something you thought you never had any trouble with coping with.
Gerry was Healy’s driver in Melbourne. As soon as Healy left, Gerry said to me that he was going to leave the party, which threw me into trauma again, because the kids were still very young, (1975) and despite my misgivings about Healy, I didn’t actually want to leave. But I knew that if he left, there was no way that he'd do what I'd done before, which was to stay home, 24 hours a day, with children, while I did party work. I knew that the party wouldn’t allow me to do only part-time work. Their hostility to Gerry, now that he'd left meant that they'd expect him to do it all. They didn’t care in fact I suppose.
But in fact, what they did do was they came out to speak to Gerry about his leaving, and they didn’t speak to me, though I was in the room. They didn’t ask me what my position was. I'd had some women’s politics before I'd joined the party, which I'd suppressed while I was in the party, thinking they were bourgeois, and middle-class and so on. I also had a strong enough sense of myself that I thought, ‘If you're not going to ask me what my position is, since it’s causing me a trauma, it’s fairly clear that I have no role in this party. So I never said anything, and they never said anything, so I just left, along with Gerry, without making any statement ever about why I did it.
It took a long time, I was very unconfident, I was in severe crisis about not being able to do things, because before you'd spent all your time saving the world, and you knew you weren’t saving the world now, because you were inadequate as a person. You weren’t up to being a revolutionary and all that sort of stuff.
But gradually I became involved in women’s politics, and as that developed, my criticism of the SLL increased. That went on till I became quite hostile to the SLL, and confused about Trotskyism. I gave up Trotskyist politics really. Never completely, I just was confused.
I started working for the ACTU, at the working women’s centre. I got so much flack from everybody for doing that. Everyone that ever knew me screamed that I was giving up the revolution, but as far as I was concerned I didn’t and I never did. I might have made certain compromises with the ACTU that I would have preferred not to make in a perfect world, but it’s not a perfect world, and I don’t think I made any bad compromise, in fact I think that I made a really important contribution.
Through doing that job, my own confidence increased, my own sense of what I was capable of. It struck me how criminal it was that I actually had all these talents, and the SLL had refused ever to use them, or encourage them. All that seemed tragic really.
I became more and more hostile, but I could never tolerate other people getting into them, I used to reject as slander all sorts of things that other people would say. I would be very vicious myself in private, to Gerry and Elvira, who were the only other people that I maintained relationships with that'd been members, (and Jim and Anne, when Anne started to become involved in the SLL teachers’ caucus) whom I felt safe to say things too, that I wouldn’t say to other people who would use what I was saying as slander.
That process went on, my hostility increased until I went to England in 1984, when the miners’ strike was on. As soon as I got there I got very involved. I went to a WRP meeting, still hoping that the WRP might be different from the SLL and was very disappointed.
Then I went to a pit village, where the WRP had had a very big intervention before I arrived, and I saw the aftermath of that intervention. And I also saw things like money that had been collected for that village, and never arriving, at least at the place that was providing the food for that whole village. I don’t know whether the WRP did collect money for the village and put it in its own coffers.
That is a whole story in itself, the WRP in Blidworth.
This experience in Blidworth freed me from the International Committee, in a way that I'd never been freed before. I was able to say then that the International Committee is not a revolutionary party and never will be a revolutionary party, which I'd never been able to say before.
I sent a personal letter to Gerry telling my worries. I said ‘Don’t whatever you do give any money to the SLL for the British miners’ strike’. He raised that with SLL members here. He told them he wanted it kept confidential. Gerry and I had had quite a lot of political differences over my ACTU job, so we weren’t politically close in the way that we are now and the way that we had been in the past, so he wasn’t totally convinced that just because I'd said this it was right. His position was to be more loyal than me. He wanted to find out what the party here said.
The party never came back to him on it and raised publicly that I, ‘Gerry Beaton’s missus’, had been sending slander back from Britain, and a letter which actually I sent to Jo Thompson, she passed on to the Tribune editorial board, and bits of it were published as eye-view of the British miners’ strike. I was then publicly slandered for being a Stalinist, because I was writing for Tribune.
The strike did two things for me — it freed me from the IC, from all my old guilt, but it also made me more aware than ever been, probably than I'd been for years, of the need for a revolutionary party.
So I came back to Australia, with some hope for Britain. I don’t know why I had it, because I thought all the political parties were awful, but I did have some hope.
Gerry and I were living together. Gerry was getting Workers News, so I'd see it. There was a very small paragraph in one, saying Healy'd been expelled, that was the first thing. I was just wrapped. I thought this was great. But then a bit nervous.
Then a couple of issues later, there was the statements made by the International committee about the expulsion, and I read about it, I was wrapped, I was over the moon. I was already planning to go back to England, but I was just so excited. I just felt intuitively that Healy’s expulsion from the WRP and the fact, that from this IC statement, that this expulsion was obviously being followed by massive re-analysis of the past and so on.
It was also very clear to me that this must have happened because of the miners’ strike, because of the timing of it, and because of knowing the power of the strike, having experienced it. I knew that all this must be positive, and that also I rang a Party supporter in England, and asked him what’s happening, because they wouldn’t give me any information here. I kept on at them — What’s happening, what’s happening? and they wouldn’t tell me anything. So he said what was happening was really wonderful, and he was really excited by it, and that all the things that had kept him from joining the party all this time were now, such that he thought he might be able to join and so on. I trusted him enough to take his word for that.
This was October 1985. I was going back in January. Between October and January I tried to get as much information from the SLL as I could, I was very worried by the fact that they didn’t want to talk. I would've thought that the first thing they'd want to do was talk to ex-members, but they didn’t. The one time they did want to talk to me and Gerry was when they wanted to talk about Mulgrew and it was very clear to us that all they were doing was trying to get filth on Mulgrew, to do a job on Mulgrew, so that was very unimpressive. I kept asking, why does Workers News, which always has loads of reprints from News Line suddenly have no reprints from News Line? They said they didn’t like what was happening in England. I think they used the term ‘opportunist’.
I was somewhat influenced by what they said. I was influenced by their line that Banda and Slaughter were part of the cover-up, and that they had to answer for themselves, I accepted that. But I didn’t accept them. The SLL was making no indications that there'd been any changes at all. So I went off with warnings from Sue Phillips — ‘You be careful when you get to England. I shouldn’t be telling you this, but there’s only a small group that’s any good, and they're mostly in the North and they're mostly the Youth.’
It’s still incredibly emotional for me to talk about it, because I never did for years and years and years I never talked about it. I never was prepared to admit, for example, until when I was joining the WRP, that I admitted to myself that I'd never actually left the SLL, I was simply no more a member because I was Gerry’s wife, and he'd left.
Things like that are enormously painful. That you devote your life to something, and are prepared to forever, and that ....little things like that are really emotional. I suppose the whole experience is very emotional and it astonishes me, it’s so emotional still.