Growing up Catholic and Labour in the 1950s

Branch Address: Bob Gould

On Monday 2 July, Bob Gould, the well known bookseller, presented a talk to the Sydney branch of the Labour History Society on the subject of ‘Dr Evatt, Santamaria, Joe Stalin and Trotsky Growing up Catholic and Labour in the 1950s’. The talk lived up to its colourful title and a sizeable audience was stimulated by Bob’s mixture of personal and political observations. The former were particularly compelling. Dob spoke with affection about the influence of his father, a fervent Lanyite and amputee of the Great War who had both a ‘real sensuous identification with the class struygle’ and a formidable collection of Marxist pamphlets. lie also recalled with candour the period of his life when as a student at Christian Brothers Strathfield and in ‘a fit of religiosit:y’ he attended Domain meetings to heckle the likes of Lockwood and Moran, only to be convinced by the force of their arguments, though retaining reservations about Stalinism. , which, in his view, precluded him from joining the Conununist Party.

Bob also detailed his contacts with the Campion Society, the Labor Club at Sydney University, the ALP at Bondi, the steering committee and subsequent fights with the Groupers. It was clear that here was a rich political life that could not possibly be completely covered in one short talk.

Bob’s more general comments about the labour movement and Labor politics were also thought provoking. Again it would be churlish to summarise these briefly but particularly interesting from the editor’s point of view were his comments about Lang. At a time when many Marxist historians invariable assail ‘the big Fella’ for what he did not do on 13 May 1932, Bob’s comments should be borne, in mind. He suggested:

The mass Lang movement of the early 1930s… was the nearest thing to a mass left wing that you’ve ever seen in Australia. It was a populist movement. The leadership were demagogues but the fact that Lang actually challenged British imperialism and generally opposed the Premier’s Plan… created a real climate of opposition to the ruling class.

Bob Gould is a spirited and controversial figure; a suitably lively discussion followed the talk.