[Marxism] The early Trotskyists in Australia

Ozleft ozleft at optushome.com.au
Fri May 20 16:33:21 MDT 2005

Susanna Short's Laurie Short: A Political Life
A summary history
By Shane Hopkinson


The following are my summary notes to a longer piece I was planning to 
write some time ago about the early days of the Trotskyist movement in 
Australia, based on Susanna Short's book on her father, Laurie, and Hall 
Greenland's book on Nick Origlass, to tell the story of the early days 
of the movement in Australia.

As time has got the better of me I decided to simply post my summary of 
the relevant part of Susanna Short's book, which is all I have been able 
to complete. I have tried to aviod editorialising over her comments but 
I will say a few words here that might clarify the story.

Laurie Short, who pioneered Trotskyism in Australia, would go on to head 
the one of the most right-wing unions in Australia. He won control of 
the union by imposing a court-controlled ballot on the union leadership, 
which was controlled by Communist Party members at the time. This was a 
turning point for Communist influence in the union movement. Hence 
Susanna Short's early references below to "rigged elections" and the 
"tyranny" imposed by the CPA on union members, reflect the legal terms 
on which a union member could challenge the leadership's right to 
control the ballot, not merely bias on her part.

I think it is important too, for post-1960s activists to see how these 
early pioneers put Trotskyist principles into practice. While there was 
some student milieu that was supportive (and indeed many intellectuals 
were drawn to Trotskyism in the 1930s) their working assumption was that 
the centre of their work was the union movement, in which they were key 
activists and leaders. This necessarily meant that they worked closely 
with Labor Party members, and tried to affect ALP policy, since that is 
where most workers placed their loyalty. The Trotskyist focus on 
"party-building" came later. The old Trotskyists' theme, in the face of 
Stalinism, was democracy – a theme that Nick Origlass would maintain 
through his life (at least in relation to political practice outside his 
own socialist circle).

Despite being a partly completed project I hope the following encourages 
people to read the full story in Susanna Short's book, Laurie Short: A 
Political Life and, more especially, the excellent account in Hall 
Greensland's book Red Hot: The Life and Times of Nick Origlass.

Full: http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Shortsummary.html

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