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Neglected Scholarship

by Rowan Cahill on January 29, 2016
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lockwood (2)

Photograph courtesy of Lou Horton

During the Cold War Rupert Lockwood (1908-1997) was one of Australia’s best known communists. During 1954-55 he was a high profile hostile witness subpoenaed by the partisan Royal Commission on Espionage, established following the defection of Canberra based Soviet diplomat and counter-intelligence operative Vladimir Petrov. The Commission was partisan political theatre, seeking, unsuccessfully, to establish links between Soviet espionage, the Australian Labour Party (ALP), and the Communist Party of Australia (CPA).  When Lockwood left the CPA in 1969 following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, it was an event drawing national media attention. His death in 1997 occasioned national and international attention.

Lockwood joined the CPA in 1939. Trained from early childhood as a typesetter/journalist on the small rural newspaper owned by his father in rural Victoria, and educated in the elite Wesley College (Melbourne), Lockwood joined the growing media empire of Australian press baron Sir Keith Murdoch in 1930, working on the Murdoch flagship the Melbourne Herald. Historian Don Watson has described the paper at the time as “a hotchpotch of almost incredible banality, and intelligent, often liberal, social and political comment”. Its young journalists were among “the best of their generation”.

The liberal leftism of colleagues helped shape Lockwood’s politics, and in 1935 he went abroad with permission to find media work and add to his value as a member of the Murdoch organisation.  With a roving commission to file Herald feature articles, Lockwood headed to Asia. Based in Singapore, he variously worked for the English language press and Reuters. He travelled extensively, visiting the Netherlands East Indies, Siam, French Indo China, and Japan. In the process he became aware of European racist attitudes and policies, the strength of national independence movements, and foresaw a future Asia freed from colonialism. He also became alarmed by the strength, ruthlessness, and expansionist intent of Japanese militarism, something not widely understood in Australia at the time.

Heading to Fleet Street, Lockwood made his way through China, Russia, Europe, and in 1937 began filing reports from the front lines of the Spanish Civil War reporting the Republican cause. These  experiences radicalised him. Upon returning to Melbourne and the Herald, he increasingly became involved in anti-fascist, left-wing, and civil libertarian issues and politics. Following a personal clash with Murdoch in 1939, Lockwood quit the paper and joined the CPA.

By 1950 Lockwood had become widely known in Australia as a communist, journalist, pamphleteer, broadcaster and orator, and was the subject of intense surveillance by Australian security services. During the Cold War, aside from party work, he edited the Maritime Worker journal of the Waterside Workers Federation (WWF).  This was an 8-page fortnightly newspaper for between 24,000-27,000 unionised waterfront workers, organised nationally in some 50 port branches.

According to Industrial Relations’ historian Tom Sheridan, Lockwood’s role as journalist/editor was a significant factor contributing to the long and successful term in office of WWF General Secretary Jim Healy (1937-1961), contributing significantly to keeping right-wing influence at bay while keeping alive a militant political culture within the union.

Lockwood was a powerful public speaker, eloquent and witty, according to numerous commentators and comments in his security dossiers. He was also a prolific and popular pamphleteer. In Lockwood’s pamphleteering  the oral and the literary met, the launch of one of his pamphlets mounted as an event, usually done in association with a public address by Lockwood. The pamphlets were produced in runs of between 5,000-20,000 copies, in booklet form of about 4,000 words in length. Overall, these pamphlets had educational purpose and intent, tended to be lively, entertaining, and the language accessible. His approach to pamphleteering tended to reject the quotation and referencing of communist stalwarts like Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and instead referenced a diversity of other sources, for example the Bible, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Lord Byron.

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Sometimes CPA pamphlets became ‘books’, longer and sustained works, more expensive but not prohibitively so, and packaged cheaply and marketed in the same way as a pamphlet. This was the case with Lockwood’s 94-page America Invades Australia (1955), dealing with the growth and extent of American investment in the Australian economy, especially post-1945, and the ways in which this acted to establish a relationship of colonial dependence with the US economy. It also examined the historical foundations of the key capitalist interests involved. The account was supported by Lockwood’s readings of American historical sources, and extensive reading of financial literatures.

The end result of the Australia/US relationship, Lockwood argued, was that Australia would become enmeshed in America’s future “plan for aggression against Asia”, with Australia used as a safe American military base for deployments against Asia, This text, a fragment of extensive original research by Lockwood on Australian political economy now in the archives of the National Library of Australia, has largely gone unnoticed. Writing in 1998, North American historian Bruce C. Daniels considered it a “prophetic” book, a pioneering work of political economy manifesting an interest and a theme that Australian scholars and analysts would take up a decade later.

During the 1950s Lockwood also published original work about Australian history and political economy in the Communist Review, the CPA ‘theoretical journal’ (1934-1966). It is a body of work that political scientist John Playford in 1970 reckoned that Australian scholars “could have learned a great deal from”.  Complete with Endnotes regarding sources, these articles ranged across Australian history, anticipating themes and issues associated with academic historians and political economists from the late 1960s onwards: indigenous dispossession and extermination; the development of ‘White Australia’ attitudes and policies; the history of monopolies and monopoly behaviour; the political economy of the 1890s; the development of political labour; the history and nature of the ALP and its emergence as the “the principal political organisation of Australian national capital”; US and Australia relations during the twentieth century; the development in Australia of a sense of “Pacific regional security”, in which the U.S. was regarded as a necessary partner.

Demonstrating the utilitarian way Lockwood saw his role as an historian – as contributing to ongoing industrial/political campaigning and struggles – a cluster of articles in 1955-1956 was devoted to aspects of the Australian shipping industry. Lockwood explored reasons why Australian shipowners had failed to create a national/international shipping presence commensurate with the nation’s volume of imports/exports. According to Lockwood, reasons were to be found in the ways British shipping interests had worked, historically, to hinder/prevent the development of Australian shipping. In the Lockwood analysis, the roots of this were in colonial history, and colonial attitudes prevailing post-Federation. These articles linked with a long running campaign by the Seamen’s Union of Australia to extend the operations, and increase the size, of the Australian shipping fleet.

Regarding monopolies generally, Lockwood argued it was simplistic to lump them together as though they and their behaviours were all the same. While they often acted together, as capitalist formations they were best understood with regard to factors like their individual histories, the origins of their capital, the nature of their investments, the biographies of their leaderships.

Lockwood’s focus on Australian history was part of a cultural milieu within the CPA that developed significantly during the 1940s and continued through the Cold War amongst intellectuals drawn to the party. It was an attempt to understand and describe/define the ‘Australianness’ of Australian culture, particularly in terms of literature and history. The aim was to develop a sense of radical nationalism, one free from the legacies of British colonialism, strong enough during the 1950s to counter the conservatism of British traditions embodied in the ideology of the Menzies government, and robust enough to enable Australia to face the future independent from increasing subservience to the US.

In researching, writing and publishing ‘history’ in the communist press, Lockwood was part of an Australian tradition described by radical historian Terry Irving, of historians “embedded in labour movement institutions”, their significant work variously challenging imperial, white dominated, ruling class histories, their accounts “scarcely recognised” in the academy, their work often anticipating/pre-dating themes and issues that are regarded as originating later in the academy. This ‘scarce recognition’ applies too, to Lockwood’s writings on political economy.

*A detailed study of Lockwood’s research and writings relating to political economy and history is in Rowan Cahill, “Rupert Lockwood (1908-1997): Journalist, Communist, Intellectual”, Doctoral thesis,  University of Wollongong, 2013.

Rowan Cahill
Rowan Cahill has worked as a teacher, freelance writer, agricultural labourer, and for the trade union movement as a journalist, historian, and rank and file activist. He is currently an Honorary Fellow with the Faculty of Law, Humanities & the Arts, at Wollongong University (NSW). Rowan has published extensively in labour movement, radical, and academic publications; his books include as co-author A History of the Seamen’s Union of Australia, 1872-1972 (1981), Twentieth Century Australia: Conflict and Consensus (1987); and as co-editor, A Turbulent Decade: Social Protest Movements and the Labour Movement, 1965-1975, (2005). His most recent book is Radical Sydney (co-authored with Terry Irving). Cahill and Irving blog at ‘Radical Sydney/Radical History’.

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