Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
Backhanded recognition for Gus Hall
Last week's Guardian ran an obituary provided by the CPUSA for Gus Hall, the long-time Chairman/General Secretary of the US Party. Hall died on October 13, aged 90. The day before The Guardian came out, the Sydney Morning Herald also ran an obituary for Gus Hall. The Herald's obituary was provided by the New York Times no less. I know at least one comrade who found such recognition for Gus Hall in the bourgeois media disconcerting. But we should not have been surprised. Although the bourgeois media did its best to ignore Gus Hall during his lifetime, the fact remains that he was — as the CPUSA obituary says — "one of the most famous American Communists" who "led an extraordinary life of working class activism and was a participant in nearly all of the most important social struggles that transformed America in the 20th century. "He leaves a deep imprint on America's political life." This is confirmed by the very fact that the New York Times (and the Sydney Morning Herald) were obliged to recognise his death with an extensive, serious (if inevitably biassed) obituary. A lumberjack and then a steelworker, the son of a Communist (his father had joined the then American Communist Party in 1919), Hall would ultimately run as Communist candidate for President of the USA on four occasions. In 1976, in a race where to vote for other than one of the two "main" parties is to be derided for "wasting" your vote, almost 60,000 Americans voted for the Communist Gus Hall for President. The US state had already done its best to stop him: he spent eight years of his life — years that could have been spent productively in the interests of ordinary Americans — in a US Federal prison for "advocating the overthrow of the government by force and violence" or some such cobbled together phrase. Like many other US Communists jailed under the Smith Act, Hall was a political prisoner in a country that routinely condemned other countries for having "political prisoners". When the Smith Act was thrown out by the Supreme Court and Hall and others were released, he became instead a "political pedestrian": in an act of petty bastardry, the State of New York even revoked his driver's licence. In the trade union-based play Waiting For Lefty, a character observes "you believe in theories when they happen to you". Gus Hall learnt the truth of his parents' political position early in his working life, in the hardships of the logging camps. "When you work in the woods literally from sun-up to sun-down and it's 50 degrees below zero [Fahrenheit] and you eat slop and you make $30 a month, then what was said at home begins to make sense", he wrote. He joined the Party in 1927 and remained committed to socialism all his life. As recently as 1996 in an interview he said: "The struggle between those who own the wealth and those whose labour produces the wealth is one flaw in capitalism that will lead to socialism." No doubt as an example of their open-mindedness, the Sydney Morning Herald chose to sandwich their obituary for "Gus Hall — US communist" between "Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill — Socialite" and "John Murray — Arms dealer".
* * *Oil and sabotage A couple of weeks ago, my cousin Larry from Tasmania wrote a letter to this paper about an act of industrial sabotage in the '30s that allowed the NSW Government to stop the distribution of cheap petrol from Romania. The big oil companies have always been notorious for protecting their monopoly interests, ever since the days when John D Rockefeller's Standard Oil ruthlessly destroyed its competitors, by fair means or foul. Larry's letter, about a significant incident that I have never seen reported in history books, reminded me that I once read in a Communist Party pamphlet about other attempts to sabotage government enterprises in NSW, including the throwing of a bomb at the Purr-Pull refinery in Sydney. The extraordinarily-named Purr-Pull was owned by the NSW Government, and had the bomb gone off it would have created havoc. I cannot now recall exactly where I saw the item. Does any reader know? Can you let us know? Tracing these criminal acts by big oil to protect its profits in Australia could make an interesting thesis for some enterprising researcher.