Jack Black was one of Australia’s leading communist intellectuals and writers. Arriving in Australia with his family in 1922, he joined the Communist Party of Australia two years later and in 1926, while workinh as a coalminer, he became secretary of the Lithgow Communist group. In 1930 he embarked on a 25 year period as an official of the Communist Party. After study in Moscow, in 1934 he became chairman of the Party’s Victorian State Committee and in 1937-38 was Australian representative on Comintem. On moving to Sydney in 1949, he was given responsibility for the Party’s theoretical journal, the Communist Review. He was a leading member of the Party until 1956 when he resigned from the Central Committee but remained a rank and file member and worked as an office cleaner until 1967. Jack died in October 2000. Below, courtesy of Audrey Blake, we publish an edited version ofJack’s final reminiscences, spannino the decade 1946 to 1956. As Audrey notes: . It was meant to be a fuller piece but time caught up with him… You will note the omission of’52. This was because Jack had asked me to do that bit because for his purposes he regarded the Youth Council as the big mass struggle of that year, for which I had special responsibilities. Time caught up with him and I decided just to leave it as it was.
1946 Early in this year a Victorian CPA conference was due. Blake prepared a draft resolution which, after discussion on the State Executive, was sent to the Party centre for approval. The Party centre strongly disapproved; in particular, of one sentence which read: “Workers will gain from Labor governments, only what they unite, organise, and fight for.” Blake was called to Sydney, where he defended the draft on the extremely narrow sectarian ground of the CPA versus the Labor Party. He was condemned and the State conference was taken under the control of the Party centre.
Also early that year the Melbourne transport strike took place; all trains and trams came to a halt. The workers claimed an increase in wages (the federal Labor government was maintaining the wartime wage-pegging regulations well into peace time). There were few cars about at that time, so workers had to walk to get to and from work. The striking transport workers made great efforts to explain their case to the public and win their support. On the evening of the ninth day of the strike Ted Hill and jack Brown, Victorian ARU secretary, came to our flat in Hawthorn with the terms of agreement with the Hollway state government.
This provided for wage rises, but fell short of the full claims of the workers. Ted Hill strongly urged that union leaders should recommend to mass meetings, due the following day, that the terms be rejected. Jack Brown agreed, but with less certainty. I felt certain that if the terms were rejected and were then made public, the strong public support for the strikers would weaken and this in turn would weaken the resolve of the strikers themselves.
The argument went on far into the night, but the final decision was to recommend to the mass meetings that the terms of settlement be a~cepted; they were accepted, and this marked a victory of nationwide significance. It was the needed breakthrough from the wage-pegging regulations still in force months after the war ended. This result prompted the wave of wages strikes which ended with the disastrous coal strike in 1949.
By decision of the Central Committee secretariat jack and Audrey Blake were moved (very unwillingly) from Melbourne to Sydney.’
1950 1950 was the year of the Communist Party Dissolution Act which made the CPA illegal. It was also the year when the Korean War broke out. Party members felt the pressure and tended to turn inwards defensively.
Near the end of 1950 Jack Blake was in Melbourne on other matters when he was told that a meeting of party cadres was to take place to hear a report by State Secretary Ted Hill and to vote on a resolution calling for cancellation of the decision to include a dance group in the Australian youth delegation to an International Youth Festival in Europe in the following year. Blake said he would like to attend the meeting. Ted Hill invited him to dinner at his home in Flemington. Driving back to the city Ted Hill stopped the car and told Blake that Sharkey had discussed with him the idea that Blake should be politically destroyed. But if, said Hill, Blake did not intervene in the meeting that night, he and Blake could remain friends. There were 150 leading Party members present at the meeting. Frank Johnson presided. In the discussion which followed Ted Hill’s report, Blake did intervene to explain the cultural significance of inclusion of the dance group. The resolution was put to a secret ballot. When the count was completed Frank Johnson announced that the resolution had been rejected but he gave no figures. 2
1951 Early in this year jack Henry, prompted by Ted Hill, made a savage attack on Audrey Blake at a Political Committee meeting. jack Blake condemned this as a disgraceful performance which could not be usefully discussed at that meeting, and proposed that the matter be referred to the Disputes Committee. After investigations in all States the Committee reported one fmding: ”That Audrey Blake was inclined to be impetuous”.
This was the year of the 16th CPA congress. In the election of the Central Committee, I topped the poll. I appreciated the honour, but felt it boded no good for me. Audrey Blake was also re-elected to the Central Committee at this congress.
September 22, 1951, was referendum day, in which the Menzies government sought powers to suppress the Communist Party. Menzies was defeated. A majority of voters in a majority of states voted NO. Dr Evatt played a very active role in the campaign for a NO vote against the wishes of the right wingers in his own party. 3
1953 Year of the Peace Convention in Sydney, with 1,000 delegates nationwide. The main features of this are referred to in jack Blake’s ‘Stalinism or Independence 1949 to 1956’, Australian Lift Review, no.76, June 1981.
In the lead up to the peace convention there was a police raid on the Communist Party headquarters in Market Street. Jack Blake had been handed the transcript of his report to the Central Committee on peace activity for editing.
I had been at work on this for less than half an hour when the alarm signaling a police raid rang. I quickly gathered the pages of script and ran into the inner offices, and gave them to Jess Grant, who concealed them on her person. As I emerged, the police headed by Whitrod, rushed in and went into my office. That police raid was confined to Blake’s office. No other office was entered. R. Dixon stood together with me O.B.) in the general teamaking area while the raid was in progress. The two page list of items police took from my desk and drawers, signed by Whitrod, showed they were mainly interested in any reference to peace or the Peace Convention. I think now that the main thing they were looking for was the transcript I had been working on. The edited version of my report to the Central Committee appeared in the following issue of the Commun~ Review.
At a Central Committee meeting after the peace convention, Blake criticised the Victorian Party leaders for failing to carry out the best practice which had been followed in all other States. Ted Hill demanded an investigation. At a secretariat meeting (Sharkey, Dixon, Blake, Henry) it was proposed that Dixon should go to Victoria to investigate. I asked that I be allowed to accompany him. It was at that point that Sharkey said Ted Hill had been discussing with him the idea that Blake should be politically destroyed, but if I apologised to Ted Hill they would forget about it.
I did accompany Dixon to Melbourne. But there Ted Hill had the leading cadres lined up in his office and he opened proceedings with an angry attack on Blake for insulting Victorian Party leaders. It was clear there could be no real investigation. Ustening to those who spoke it was also clear to me that they in fact did not understand anything about best practice for communists working for peace which was the real issue.
Immediately following these events a meeting of the Political Committee, enlarged by members from the states, assembled for the six day discussion on the so-called Consolidation discussion. This was opened by Ted Hill who charged Blake with rightism and submerging the Party in the popular mass movements. But it was known that every step taken by Blake on these matters had been endorsed by the central leadership. So the Consolidation statement condemned him for left sectarianism. This was manifestly wrong as the printed record over several years of Communist Review testifies. This was brushed aside by the determination to ‘politically destroy’ Blake.
1954 This was the year of the Petrov Commission into allegations of espionage. Audrey was called to the Petrov Commission and offered to attend. Ted Hill called to see her and it was decided that she should not attend (she was seriously ill in bed with rheumatic fever). No more was heard from Hill or anyone else. Only much later was it revealed in material from Laurie Aarons which he had from ASIa fIles that Petrov had declared that Audrey Blake was a Soviet spy and Jack Blake was not. This was the fIrst we knew of this matter. In reality neither Audrey nor Jack Blake was a spy, and had never ever been approached on any such matter.
Jack Blake’s political activity was severely restricted as a result of Consolidation. 1955 Audrey Blake indicated to the Central Committee that she would not be available for re-election to the Committee.
1956 In that year Jack Blake worked in support of the Assembly for Peace held in Sydney. There was a substantial increase in the number of ALP delegates to this Assembly due to the Hobart conference. In this year Jack Blake also took a stand on the 20th Congress of the CPSU on Stalin.'”
On the final meeting of CPA Central Committee in 1956 I will only say this. Sharkey’s abusive attack on me was the “political destruction of Jack Blake” twice foreshadowed, half done in Consolidation, now completed. Not one voice from the forty or more leading people present was heard in protest.
At the time I saw this as something happening to me. In retrospect I think it was something that set the CPA on a downward slope from which, despite the many efforts over a long period of time, it was not able to recover.
- Communist Review, April 1949, pp.109-11Oj Australian Left Review, No.70; J.Blake: The 1949 Coal Strike, pp. 12-18.
- Communist Review, February-November 1950.
- Communist Review, April-December 1951.
- See Australian Lift Review No. 76 1981. Also J. Blake (1971), Revolution From Within, ch.3.