The famous Australian author, radical, raconteur and punter, Frank Hardy died in Melbourne in February this year. The following is the text of a speech given by Hal Alexander at the Frank Hardy Memorial Meeting, Jim Healy Hall, Sydney, 13 March 1994.
Some 14 years after its formation Frank Hardy joined the Communist Party of Australia. He was 17 and like the Party a product of his time.
As in many other countries, Marxism was becoming the weapon and guide to action for the working class. For the raw militants of the period it provided a rationale of society and guide to changing the social order from one of exploitation to one without classes where the ftuits oflabour were shared and creativeness would flower.
Nothing exists in a vacuum and the Party reflected the strengths and weaknesses of its membership. In the first three to four decades of its development a majority of members worked in concentrated production. Where each is reliant on the other, where each is a unit dependent on the next, where the many are cyphers making up the whole. This is the social conditioning that makes a proletarian and gives rise to common reliance, both in production and life. More itinerant wage earners (cane-cutters, shearers, rural workers) did not face the day to day, week by week, month by month and year after year socialisation of those on production lines in large factories, mines, workshops and like enterprises. Such workers made up the bulk of the members of the CPA in the first few decades. Each section of the class carried characteristics of its mode of production.
Frank Hardy and his life was more expressive of the anarcho-syndicalist tendency within the Party than those chained to the production process. He and others, who in their formative years had no consistency of employment, often also carried characteristics of the lumpen proletariet. While sharing a common passion to right the wrongs and bring an end to poverty and degradation, such workers often lacked the self-discipline and preparedness to sink self-interest in pursuit of common goals. I believe that Frank’s waverings and well known and sometimes documented failings arose trom these origins.
A militant fighter for Socialism he was. A paragon of virtue he wasn’t.
Those of us who joined the Party in an earlier period, like Frank, are indebted to it for making us what we are. The thing that none of us could foresee, despite warnings from the likes of Lenin, was the resilience of capitalism, its capacity to refurbish itself and the consequent hold of non or anti Communist ideology over the minds of those with most to gain from a change in social relations.
In the later decades this reflected itself inevitably in the Party with the rejection of class politics, the adoption of middle class mores and attitudes to organisation. The theoretical and practical rejection of the working class as the revolutionary force of history led finally to the liquidation of the CPA. What could not be achieved by the ruling class by legal and parliamentary means succeeded from within.
In the course of this fairly extended process many of the finest comrades, workers and intellectuals, were driven trom the Party. Numbers voted with their feet. There’s a big mob of them out there still who continue to struggle and act in the principled way in which they were trained. I know.
Others, trading on past history, were able to convince sufficient of the remainder to embark on the idiotic, costly and disastrous projects of the New Left Party, Broadside and a glossy Australian Left Review. Like the oofler bird, each has disappeared up its own arsehole. And where was Frank? Fuming, spitting chips and using those ‘off the record’ obscenities for which he was justly famous.
My relationship with him was not always snugglepot and cuddlepie. There was no ‘you kiss my arse , I’ll kiss yours.’ For political and personal reasons there was as much friction as affection between us. We brought with us our origins and class background.
As I am supposed to speak about Frank and the Aboriginal struggle, perhaps I should present credentials. Better this came trom Kevin Cook or Tory or another blackfeller, but they dobbed me in. I have been on the barricades with them and the Gary Foleys, the Marcia Langtons, the Watsons and hundreds more for a long time. In the last fifteen years a large part of my life has been spent in the Northern Territory among Arrernte people as an accepted member of their extended family. I have visited the Gurindji homelands. At the time of their struggle that concerns ‘The Unlucky Australians’ I was in South Australia as a Party organiser and then in heavy industry.
When Frank Hardy went north he had behind him a mixed and maybe confused background of attempts by the CPA to understand and assist the movement for self determination. About the time he joined the Party it produced the first attempt at a Marxist analysis/program for Aboriginal people. Tom Wright, Secretary of the Sheet Metal Workers union and C.C. member was responsible and it was basically adopted by the NSW Trades and Labor Council. The Party was largely responsible for setting up the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Comrades Joe McGuiness and Faith Bandler and others played leading roles.
The Gurindji struggle was not the first of its kind. On the first of May, 1945, Aboriginal workers in the Pilbara(W A) went on strike. ‘Tribal whitefeller’ and Communist Don McLeod, Dooley and Clancy McKenna were the main leaders, immortalised in Dorothy Hewett’s poem. In the N.T. in 1950/51, Aboriginal workers employed in the Dept. of ‘Native Affairs’ (sic) went on strike influenced by wharfie comrades George Gibbs and Brian Manning. The Northern Australian Workers Union played a part in these and other events. Other actions have taken place over the years. So that for at least forty years the Party had attempted to link the working class with the liberation struggle of the Aboriginal people.
For the best analysis of the whole picture and of the Gurindji people comrades should read Hannah Middleton’s ‘But Now We Want The Land Back’ written by one who lived with them, who is an activist for Land Rights and the Anti-Bases Campaign and with whom I have been arrested in pursuit of both issues. So I know what I’m talking about. She is currently President of the Socialist Party of Australia.
It is not my intention to make a critique of Frank’s book. Much has been made over differences with him concerning that and related matters. The innermost secrets of us all die with us. We have had enough of bulls hitting mea culpas to last a lifetime.
Frank Hardy and’ The Unlucky Australians’ became’ a spark that lit a prairie fire’- if you will excuse the lapse into a bit of Maoism which comes of spending most of 1957 in China. A time, when according to one mea culpa, I was busy expelling people, right and left trom the Party. Fires usually start when people are careless with matches and Hardy was that kind of bloke. He was able to mobilise the still real forces of action in the CPA at that time.
Factory gate and hall meetings, trade union demands for justice and intellectuals, writers and artists all poking their bibs in. Thousands of dollars raised, food and clothing collected and sent. Even the ALP left perked up. For a while we were back in ‘the good old days’ The Party carried through what Frank had started.
And we won. At least the Gurindjis did. Which just goes to show that everything changes and nothing changes. Except that the Labor Party claimed the credit.
So that despite the weaknesses this may have been Frank’s best work. He knew the great advantage for people in struggle if there is a deeply connected and committed organisation of those who put self-interest behind them when they accept the principles of revolutionary Marxism.
The first time I met Frank we were both half pissed and we blued. While working in the railways in one of the dirtiest, shit-encrusted jobs 1 was also keg cracker and honorary barman at the Seamen’s Club in lower Pitt St. He was whingeing about writer’s block and I made some remark that led to him saying (yelling) a response to the effect of who was this middle class poofter and what university did I crawl out from. We made up over the last dregs of beer in the keg.
On other occasions I organised and chaired meetings at factory gates in South Sydney and the railways so that he and Judah Waten could speak on behalf of the Australian Book Society in a fund raising and membership drive.
Wal Buckley, AEU organiser, was a dog man.As guests of the Committee, Frank and Roslyn and others went to Wenty Park. Following the well known dictum that if the Stewards back it you are in with a show we went well. At one stage Frank was weaving through the ring declaiming – How long’s this been going on – Fuck the hayburners and so on. I think he blew the lot before the end of the meeting. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
But one ofthe memories I have of Hardy is that somehow 1 spent the. night with him at the Narrabeen Heights eyrie and we drove to town to the Castlereagh. Before TAB and Teev there was a Starting Price bookie laying the odds in the saloon bar. In the bar one of the punters asked Frank what he knew. Frank says he was talking to Armanescu on the blower fton Melbourne. No sweat. This thing looks the goods in the third at the Valley. Another hopeful sidles up with a raised eyebrow that put the question. Well, says Frank, there’s this mate of mine who goes with the strapper’s sister and he reckons that so and so was the rod in pickle in the third at the Valley but keep it to yourself. The barman shouts us a schooner each on the strength of the information that another donkey in the same six furlong scarper had burnt the grass in a secret trial. A motzer according to my mate. In my innocence I asked Frank what was going on. Not to worry, he says. One of them would eventually get up and we’d be right for piss for the rest of the afternoon. The moral is Never take another mug’s advice.
So why did Frank, myself and thousands of others join the Party in the first place?
Because it gave us a rationale for the madness that was. Because it changed us from headbutting incompetents to some kind of thinking strategists. Because it gave us self-esteem. It educated us in the knowledge that WE were better than THEM.
The Party demanded of us a proletarian self-discipline. It taught us that the primary reason for its existence was to feel for the working class and all oppressed people. It showed us that it was inevitable that we could put an end to the misery and the poverty and the senseless dying that came trom the eXploitation of one class by another. I don’t know what others thought but that’s how it was. It still is.
Frank Hardy was an important figure in that army of thousands of devoted comrades.
He was an important writer and activist who helped, in his own way, to expose the evils of the system and was part of some of the solutions. He played an important role in the history of the Australian labour movement.
Lenin wrote once about how the bourgeoisie, on the death of a popular figure, strip them of their real essence and parade them as virtuous examples to follow. Nice people but misguided. Those arseholes like Henderson of the Sydney Morning Herald and McGuiness of The Australian have had their say.
This gathering is important to reclaim Frank Hardy for ourselves. Warts and all.
Wrong he may have been at times. Out of step at others.
But in the final count – HE WAS ONE OF US!