Hall Greenland’s Red Hot: The Life and Times of Nick Origlass 1908-1996, Wellington Lane Press, 1998, 318 pp.

Issy Wyner

The quintessence of Trotskyism, and later of Pabloism, resides in its insistence that neither communism nor socialism has ever existed as a form of social organisation. What is more, neither socialism, nor what is regarded as a higher form of socialism, namely, communism, can be produced by revolution or legislation. These forms of action can do no more than open the way forward to the ideal form of society.

The nightmarish horror of Stalinism was never a part of genuine communist or socialist theory. The maniacal distortions of communist theory, the outrageous crimes committed against millions of human beings in the name of communism, the total Stalinist destruction of the first great opportunity to place a large section of humanity on the road forward to socialist goals, did no more than provide ammunition for the champions of capitalism with which to justify their condemnation of communist and socialist thought and to prate of the “wonders” of capitalism.

Trotskyism sought to show that there were stages through which humanity would have to pass before it attained the utopian society of genuine communism. There would be an initial stage which would proceed as a means of ensuring that humanity was not hindered or handicapped in its search for a better form of social organisation. And, it would undoubtedly require many generations actively in pursuit of the finer goals. It would certainly not be a dictatorship such as that imposed by a Stalin or a Mao Tse Tung, for it would have as its essence the basic concept of participatory democracy, in which many more than Mao’s thousand flowers would bloom.

What was of crucial importance in the whole concept of a socialist or a communist society was that it could not be achieved while ever large sections of the world were still dominated by capitalist society and capitalist concepts. In other words, there could never be socialism in one country alone. But, where any country took the first steps towards seeking socialism, it had to be meticulous in its efforts to ensure against invasions from the surrounding capitalist enemy – invasions whether by physical attack or by cultural, political or economic incursions. And this required ensuring that decision-making resided with the people, by way of consultation and the fullest participation in the making of decisions.

But eventually, another stage would be developed in which the basis of social organisation would be one of peace and abundance for the free and equal peoples of the earth. And with the attainment of that stage, humanity would look to a more ideal social arrangement in which it would be possible for men and women to seriously consider Trotsky’s vision, in which humanity’s lowest common denominator would be what is regarded as genius today. And that would be the genuine socialist stage from which humanity would be able to move forward to the ultimate utopia: a communist society, limitless in human thought and endeavour.

This, the Trotskyist approach, stood diametrically opposed to the indescribable outrage against humanity which went by the name of Stalinism with its claims to have established a socialist society in Russia, in China, in Eastern Europe. It was that distortion of Marxist and Leninist thought which led to the formation of the Left Opposition within, and later outside the Communist parties of the world. The Left Opposition soon reorganised as the Fourth International, based on the clear evidence that the Third International under Stalinist influence, no longer represented genuine communist thinking or practice.

In Australia, a Left Opposition was formed in the early thirties and quickly developed into a Section of the Fourth International as news from abroad showed that what had been experienced in Australia was also experienced throughout the Communist parties of the world.

Hall Greenland has done an excellent job in presenting an authentic history of Trotskyism in Australia, of setting the record straight concerning the reactionary activities of the Communist Party in this country.

Of course, in the telling, Hall has not held back from a warts-and-all approach towards those professing to be Trotskyists, but what emerges from the book is the fact that the history of Trotskyism in Australia is also a biography of its strongest advocate, theorist and technician: Nick Origlass. While due regard is given to the man who could possibly be said to have led the Australian Left Opposition from its founding to its reorganisation as a Section of the Fourth International, Jack Sylvester, the book undoubtedly presents Nick Origlass as the father of Trotskyism in Australia from the time when Sylvester bowed out.

It was certainly Nick who studiously watched events in Australia and overseas and produced theses which established his position of leadership. Relying on documents which he had to tediously and meticulously translate from French, he had an incredible grasp of developments in other countries and of what was occurring within the Fourth International itself where, once more, power-seekers were destroying its foundations.

Hall Greenland has touched on all the figures who have passed through the ranks of the Australian Section of the Fourth International: from the heroic, intelligent, charismatic Jack Sylvester, through to the present time. There are those who died still believing in genuine socialism, and those who simply drifted away, and those who reneged on all socialist thought to become avowed anti-socialist advocates and activists, and those who have sought to continue with the basic socialist approach to modern events and needs.

Many of those whom Hall has now placed on record, have never been mentioned before, yet are deserving of recognition among the forward-looking elements of society. So many names that I have all but forgotten: Jimmie Howarth, Stan Kirby, Keith Jones, Bert Newman, Sam Fox, Albert Robbie, Sid Homer, the Eatocks, and others from the 1930s; and all those who came later, through the 1940s and 1950s: people whom I knew from my earliest days in the labour movement, through to the present time.

However, he has omitted one important name – that which appeared as publisher on most of the printed issues of Socialist – Alan McLean, a seaman and long-standing friend of mine.

Red Hot lays the basis for remaining true to the genuine ideas and ideals of all the noted, courageous thinkers who have played a part in fashioning those ideas and ideals. Here, for the first time, is a record of the Fourth International and its efforts to indict the Stalinist incubus imposed on the whole labour movement of the world. Here, too, are memories for me of associations with some of the finest intellects in Australia; here are notes of the influences which have guided my thinking and activity since I was 15 or 16 years of age. And here, too, is the record of a man, a legend in his own time, an intellect dedicated to humanity’s eventual self salvation, who made other claimants in Australia to such a title, appear as mere political pygmies.

The book, too, gives its rightful place to the great achievement of the 1970s, which focussed public attention on participatory democracy as the only genuine form of democracy. I refer, of course, to the Open Council, introduced by the 1971-74 Leichhardt Municipal Council, in which I was an alderman, led by Nick Origlass. The concept swept through the corridors of power, not only in Local Government, but in the State and Federal spheres as well, where we witnessed some lip service given to it.

As with all good works, there are small inaccuracies in the book, which do not, however, take away anything from Hall’s excellent work. For example, there is mention on page 131 of Arthur Greenfield who, I am sure was really Hughie Greenfield, an active Trotskyist loner, a militant member of the Painters and Dockers Union for many years who died in North Queensland during the 1960s. And on page 149 is a photo of Nick Origlass with Stan Kirby and Keith Jones, but only Nick and Stan are named. Keith, the politically well-read and aware fitter and turner who worked at Bunnerong Power Station, is not given his name.

I commend Red Hot to all students of political history who genuinely seek truth, understanding and guidance for society’s way forward out of the slough of capitalism and towards a society limitless in its possibilities for the human mind, for the human physique, and for human relationships in toto.