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Issue #1919      June 15, 2020

“Long live international peace!”: Sharkey in dock

“Long live international peace!” were the last words of the Communist Party General Secretary Lance Sharkey before being sentenced to the maximum period of three years jail for “sedition” at Darlinghurst court on Monday.

A rustle of astonishment and anger swept the crowded court as Judge Dwyer pronounced sentence.

The leader of the Australian militant workers, who all his life has fought for world peace and for the advancement of the working-class, was then led away to the Labor Government’s jail.

He will be released from it as the result of a mighty campaign in which not merely every worker and every democrat but every fair-minded man and woman will join.

In his address to the judge, before sentence, Mr Sharkey said that there had not been many previous convictions for sedition in Australia.

The first case was that brought against Peter Lalor, leader of the Eureka rebellion; the others were against Hugh Mahon (a member of the Federal Labor Party, for a statement in connection with the Irish war of independence) and the late Percy Brookfield.

Singled out

Mr Sharkey added that a large number of Communist Party spokesmen in different parts of the world had made statements somewhat similar to his at the time he made it.

“I am the only one to be prosecuted,” he said.

As to the question of fascism referred to in his alleged statement Mr Sharkey said: “It is true that there is no open Fascist movement in Australia today but such things can develop and it was such a development I had in mind.

“I certainly believe it would have been much better for the German people and the world had they themselves suppressed the Fascist movement in its early stages.”

Hypothetical question

Explaining his reference to Soviet Russia Mr Sharkey said:

“I would like to make it clear that it is no part of the outlook or the program of the Communist Party to expect Soviet troops come to Australia to establish Communism.

“That has been dealt with by the great founder of the Communist movement such men as Marx, Engels and Lenin – and they are very clear and definite.

“They said that one nation, where the Socialists were victorious, could not by force impose Socialism on another nation; that in endeavouring to do so they would create conditions that would undermine their own Socialism

“So I said to McGarry it was a hypothetical question and I did not see a great deal of point in discussing it in this manner.

Fight for peace

‘“We see any social changes as being the work of the Australian people.

We have no policy or program which calls for the coming to Australia of Russian troops.”

Mr Sharkey said he regarded the most important part of his interview as that in which he said the task of the Communist Party was to take a leading part in the fight for international peace.

“So far as the Communist Party was concerned the all important thing was that it should do everything in its power to stop war.

“The Communist Party gets very few opportunities to put its view in the daily press and I felt that, if I could get that part of my message over, it would satisfy me.

“I have no feeling of guilt for what I did.

“Long live International peace!”

Judge’s comments

Judge Dwyer said sedition was a crime aimed directly at the community.

“You, Sharkey, have spoken words calculated and intended to incite disaffection and to promote feelings of illwill and hostility as between different classes of persons in this country and so to prejudice the peace, order and good Government of the Commonwealth.

“Your words were very obviously spoken in anticipation of wide publicity being given them and under conditions apt to create the greatest possible mischief.

“You claim to have spoken on behalf of the Communist Party, and your claim to do so has never been questioned. Neither were your words spoken casually or by way of foolish indiscretion or hot headed temperamental harangue.

“On the contrary they were the result of a deliberate pre-determination to effect a malign and traitorous purpose.

Attacks [CPA]

“That purpose was to present and recommend a policy involving disloyalty to Australia so as to excite disaffection.

“The very proviso introduced by you in a cunning but futile attempt to protect yourself from deserved punishment is to my mind manifestly indicative of those guilty and treasonable motives from which you spoke.

“Sedition, it has been said, is a crime allied to that of treason and it frequently precedes treason by a short interval.

Maximum penalty

“Over the Communist Party and its seditious or treasonable conspiracies I have neither jurisdiction nor power and it is to the appropriate authorities that I perforce must leave the task of adequately safe-guarding the community in that regard.”

Mr Justice Dwyer said he would impose the maximum sentence allowed by the law, three years imprisonment.

He concluded “Remove the prisoner!”

Clean record

Earlier two detectives gave evidence that Mr Sharkey had no previous conviction. One of them had known him for ten years, but knew nothing detrimental to his character apart from the present proceedings. A large number of workers gave three cheers for Mr Sharkey as he entered the court.

This article originally appeared in Tribune October, 1949

Next article – US protests – A lesson in violence

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