The Russian Simonoff (Simonov) was the first Consul for the USSR, and was officially recognised by cable signed "Trotsky", during 1918. The Australian Government refused to recognise him. He was energetic in two fields, carrying out normal consular work, explaining the situation in Russia and appealing for trading relations; and in stimulating the development of a Communist Party in Australia. He also continued to participate in Australian political activities. It was rather inevitable that his consular responsibilities would be brief and end in deportation.
Peter Simonoff's 1920 memorandum to the Australian prime minister.
On 12th March, 1918, Simonoff came to Melbourne and took rooms at "Loran", 350 St. Kilda Road, which he regarded as a Consulate. In Sydney he had premises in 28 Station House, Rawson Place. He busied himself disseminating information about the Soviet Union and where expedient, wrote under a nom de plume, political articles. He wrote under the name P. Finn in The Proletarian Review. However under his own name he wrote "What is Russia?" which circulated widely in the radical movement. Simonoff wrote a Memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister and headed "Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic", "Memorandum of the Representative in Australia to the Prime Minister."
A footnote on the front page indicates it was published by the Australian Socialist Party, 115 Goulburn Street, Sydney, with the permission of the Consul General.
The last paragraph in the Memorandum reads:
My country, which has been looked upon as lost to international trade, offers today greater possibilities in this respect than does any other country in the world. Russia is a whole world by itself. She offers things which are necessary everywhere, and she wants things which are found also everywhere. My Government is today the greatest single buying and selling concern the world ever witnessed, and to refuse trading with such a concern is suicide for those who do so. And it is the duty of your Government to arrange the facilities for your people to open trading with my Government as soon as possible, just as it is my duty to point this out to your Government.
Representative of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic.
From his Sydney address he issued a periodical called Soviet Russia and his byline was "Official organ of the Russian Soviet Government Bureau."
Simonoff announced in Melbourne that he was leaving for Russia in July, 1918. He had at last been able to arrange passage on a Japanese ship leaving the port of Sydney.
A complimentary testimonial was organised at the Socialist Hall, with sixpence the price of admission. £100 was given to the Simonoff Trust Account for publication of his book, What is Russia, Fraser and Jenkinson agreeing to risk half the cost.
After a great farewell news came from Simonoff in Sydney that his passage had been cancelled. At the end of October he was back in Melbourne and a couple of weeks later was arrested on the Yarra Bank.
He was charged under the War Precautions Act as an alien. He had addressed a meeting and in doing so propagated Bolshevism, after he had received an order not to address meetings. The result was a fine of £50 on each of two counts in default six months' gaol and costs and was to enter into recognizances totalling £200 (two of £100 each) to observe the regulations for the period of the war. He served four months.
His consular work was not very "diplomatic" by today's standards, the following letter shows the close tie-up with the Communist Party.
The Communist Party of Australia,
752 George Street,
21st December, 1920
Mr. Peter Simonoff,
Consul General of the Russian Soviet Republic.
I have been instructed by the Central Executive of the Communist Party to extend to you as Consul General of the Russian Soviet Republic, an invitation to be present at any Executive meeting of the Party.
The next meeting of the Central Executive will be held in Room 54, Trades Hall, on Wednesday, December 22nd, at 8 o'clock.
I also have been instructed to ask you if you would be so kind as to lecture for us at the Concordia Hall, Elizabeth Street, next Sunday evening December 26th. We suggest that the title of your lecture should be "Russia. Past and Present".
(The above copy letter by courtesy of Tom Wright — who says the original would have been signed by W. Earsman.)
Simonoff was deported in 1922. Of him Jack Kilburn, veteran Trade Union leader says "Peter Simonoff I knew and respected as a man able to speak up and out, he was well liked by militant workers."
Whilst Simonoff was in gaol Michael Patrick Considine MHR, stood in as Consul. After Simonoff was deported, Eddie Callard became representative in Sydney and Z. Markov handled consular work in Melbourne. Only Simonoff was recognised by the Soviet Union.
The first anniversary of the Russian Revolution was advertised to be held at the Masonic Hall, Collins Street, Melbourne, on Monday, March 25th, 1918.
A leaflet was issued showing it was under the auspices of the Russian Association in co-operation with the ASP, the Australian Women's Peace Army and the Victorian Socialist Party.
The Chairman was the Reverend F. Sinclaire.
M. Simonoff, Consul General for Russia and M. Dravin, will explain the Bolshevik Policy.
M. Kanevsky will explain the Social Revolutionary Policy and Why the Bolsheviks are wrong.
Mr. F. Anstey, MP.
Miss Cecilia John (Australian Women's Peace Army).
Mr. H. Scott-Bennett (VSP).
Mr. J. Scott (ASP).
Balalaikah Orchestra under direction of M. Cakse will play from 7.30 to 8 p.m.
Hon.-Sec. Joint Committee.
However another leaflet had to be produced deleting the name of Kanevsky—according to Jim Scott, the "reactionary Kanevsky was taken off the bill."
Actually it was not held at the Masonic Hall, as the booking was cancelled by the Hall and the celebration was finally held at the Guild Hall. Neither Frank Anstey or Harry Scott-Bennett spoke—probably there were explanations for this.
Bert Wall and Phil Woolf (IWW and One Big Union Propaganda League) were very active in organising later anniversaries, which celebrated the October revolution.
Between the years 1921 and 1923 Australia donated in cash and kind £250,000 for the relief of stricken Europe, the majority of it going to Russia. The Government itself, donated £50,000 worth of meat (106 wagon loads) for the relief of the famine in Soviet Russia. 500 bales of wool were donated by the British-Australian Wool Realisation Association. Leading citizens, including a great number of Sirs, Ladies, Dames, Majors and Reverends, formed a committee under the chairmanship of Her Excellency Lady Rachel Forster (wife of the Governor-General). The THC and the Employers' Federation were represented. Muriel Heagney was secretary. Lady Forster was eager to have her in an administrative position because she wanted the unions to take an active part in the relief campaign.
Muriel was well known and respected in the union movement, having been on the executive of the THC. She was the first effective advocate of equal pay and a champion of improved conditions for women workers. She was appointed an investigator in the 1919-20 Royal Commission on the basic wage and gathered evidence in the six capital cities and Newcastle. In 1948 she made a survey of women's wages for the ACTU. She was the first person to bring forward the concept of "the rate for the job." During her active life she wrote many pamphlets and leaflets and in 1936 her book, Are Women Taking Men's Jobs? was well acclaimed. She represented Australia overseas—in 1925 she was Australia's delegate at the first British Commonwealth Labor Conference held in the House of Commons and in August 1928 she attended the Pan Pacific Women's Conference in Honolulu and there presented a major report on "The Trade Union Woman". She was an adviser at an International Labour Organisation Conference held in the United States and was to have stayed there to write a book for publication on the equal pay question but the outbreak of war in 1939 prevented this project.
Moses Baritz, in the middle (others not identified).
A colourful visitor to Andrade's Bookshop in 1919 was an English Socialist from Manchester. Moses Baritz was a vigorous personality, thickset in build, and unorthodox in behaviour, he made his mark in the Melbourne of that time. He was a knowledgable man, an authority on Marx, talented debater, ballet enthusiast, violinist, music lover and critic, theatre critic (E. A. Huckerby, secretary Theatrical Employees' Union kept him supplied with free theatre tickets in Melbourne), gourmet and chef. He was also a champion wrestler.
Baritz had been deported from England to Canada during the war. The local police investigated him on arrival, his fame preceding him. "Are you here to show the IWW how to work?" they asked Moses. "IWW" he snorted, "No! let me get at them. These are the people I want to chew up. I'll spit them into the ocean. Where are they? Let me at them!" said he as he strode up and down the deck of the ship. "Once I see them I'll annihilate them!" (Although the IWW as an organisation was outlawed, its ideology persisted.)
The police were apparently impressed with this show of dramatic hostility towards what they regarded as the only formidable organisation against authority.
Moses was an ardent supporter of Socialism and as such he was ready to take sword and dagger to the IWW adherents. Apart from a genuine knowledge of Marx he was one of those people who are able to appear exceptionally knowledgable on Marxist theory because they can recite long passages from Marx verbatim and quote the chapter and verse. This ability quite amazed and to some extent befuddled the local Marxian students. He spoke at a number of meetings and debated anyone prepared to front him. His stay here was financed from collections at meetings, indicating his splendid draw-card qualities. He was never tired of arguing and did so not only professionally but ceaselessly on street corner and in private houses.
He was insatiable for new ideas, and became well known for his opening address on greeting anyone he knew with, "Anything fresh? What's new?", or at times the reverse, "What's new? Anything fresh?"
He became friendly with Laidler and Baracchi, and it was with the former as challenger and the latter as chairman that he met his match in a debate at the Strand Theatre, Bourke Street.
At this time Baracchi was living in South Yarra and Moses would spend the day shuttling between the bookshop and Baracchi's house, where, on arrival he would give the usual greeting, "Anything fresh? What's new?" and after briefly getting the substance of what was new and fresh from the Baracchi end, he would say, "I must ring Percy". Whereupon he would pick up the 'phone, ask the exchange for Central 2216 and hearing Perc's voice on the phone would say, "What's new Percy, anything fresh?" A short discussion with Guido on the basis of what stimulation Perc's conversation had offered, and he would say, "I must go and see Percy." Arriving there the performance was repeated, only this time he rang Baracchi to find out what was new and fresh. Moses expressed himself picturesquely and of Guido said, "Baracchi thinks the revolution is to hit a scab with a half brick in a toilet." (Which remark Guido is fond of quoting.)
Baritz challenged the VSP, ASP, SLP, WIIU, Rationalists and ALP to debate but the big debate that keyed everyone up was the one with Laidler. It was awaited with great excitement and the period of preparation was a tense one for Laidler, knowing that the eyes of all Australian Industrial Unionists were on him. The Strand theatre was a large one, showing silent pictures. It was packed out from an early hour on a Sunday night in July 1919. Laidler throughout his whole life attacked those members of political parties and groups who get up to speak or debate either unprepared, or sloppily prepared. He affirmed that it was an insult to the audience to fail to prepare your material to the very utmost. He extended himself on this occasion, and could hardly be spoken to for a week beforehand. He paced up and down (the better to think) every waking moment that he was not at work. No doubt he spent his sleeping hours half-tuned to the arguments to raise and the arguments that would be proffered.
Laidler closely studied Baritz's methods and found that he bamboozled his opponents by using terms and definitions with which they were not familiar.
Laidler cut the ground from under his feet by debating on a common level, using the Baritz definitions as the norm and explaining them to the audience. Hitherto the labour movement regarded the words "political" and "parliamentary" as being synonymous. Moses used them in a marxist sense.
At the conclusion of the debate, Moses, in moving a vote of thanks to the chairman said he thought Baracchi a very good chairman, his only criticism was "he sided with my opponent."
The Industrial Solidarity of July 5th, 1919, reported the debate as follows:
Since his arrival in Australia, Moses Baritz has missed no opportunity to attack the Industrial Unionists of this country, and, indeed, of all countries. He has roared like a lion from both Melbourne and Sydney platforms. Anyone who ventured to mildly question him upon any phase of the subject was fortunate if he was not torn to pieces by this "intellectual giant". He has held the field and been allowed by Industrialists to have a fairly free rein.
Eventually, however, the time came for Moses to show his hand, to expose his cards, to defend his attack upon the Industrial Unionists. He was given that opportunity in debate with Percy Laidler, but let it be said without reservation of any kind that the "intellectual giant" showed himself utterly incapable of replying to any single one of the arguments put up by Laidler. In his first attempt to reply to Laidler he displayed all the signs of a man fighting a losing battle. In the first round Laidler delivered him the knockout blow. Not one argument in refutation was put forward by Baritz. He was a beaten man, and seemed to recognise it the moment Laidler made his first point. In vain did he wriggle and twist, he was held as within a vice. Argument after argument, as easily as they fell from the lips of Moses, were with as little effort simply torn to shreds before his eyes, and Moses did not even attempt to pick up the torn shreds. It was a night to be remembered. A complete vindication of Industrial Unionism . . .
The report continues and is signed "H. F." The enthusiasm for the local boy v. the stranger is apparent but unfortunately the actual arguments were not recorded by him.
Another correspondent does mention three of the arguments raised.
Baritz said that the general strike is not effective: that the mass of the workers had first to be educated and then the revolution could commence and that the workers had to capture the political machinery (Parliament) first, in order to be able to control the police and the army, and that we can then bring the social revolution.
The replies of the correspondent were: General strike in Russia 1905 forced Czar to sign abdication; (sic) that if the Russians had waited till 184,000,000 were sufficiently educated the revolution would have been postponed for thousands of years and finally he wrote "don't say it can't be done that way but it was done without capturing Parliament in Russia in 1917. Only 13 social democrats were in the Duma."
One of his other debates was with Mark Feinberg, who commented no-one thought it strange that two Jewish atheists should debate the subject "Can a Christian be a Marxist Socialist". Mark Feinberg has had a long political career beginning in the Social Democratic Party in the year 1903. Later he joined the IWW Club, SLP, ASP and WIIU and finally the ALP. Mark took the stand that religion was a private matter. Baritz said that religion was not a private matter but a public nuisance. In his bellowing style he attacked, saying that it was difficult to believe Feinberg had read Karl Marx and that if he had read him he didn't have the brains to understand him. He asked Feinberg if he missed Marx's statement that religion was the opium of the people to keep them asleep and from rebelling, with a promise of pie in the sky.
He went on—"Feinberg gave us a list of individuals who call themselves Christian socialists—what can I do to stop them calling themselves what they like?"
Feinberg had the right of reply and he sounded off. "My opponent Mr. Baritz has given us a display of abuse and conceit—he says that I haven't the brains to understand Marx—he alone has all the brains to understand Marx. But I don't stand alone. The best brains in the Socialist movement, the Soviet leadership take my stand, not Baritz, on the question in dispute. Churches and Synagogues are allowed to function and sincere believers are allowed to attend and worship. There's no law against it." Feinberg asserted that any religious person could be a socialist if he didn't take his political and economic views from a Rabbi, Priest or parson (unless they were socialist). Baritz was shocked to hear Feinberg say that he had read Das Kapital in the Synagogue. He attended Synagogue to keep his parents happy but would take along Das Kapital to read.
Baritz debated J. McKellar at the Strand Theatre on the question "Is Socialism opposed to Religion?" Moses said "Yes" and McKellar said "No."
Jack Cain, MLA, debated with Baritz: subject—"That a White Australia is in the interest of the Australian Working Class". Cain affirmed.
As well as debating, Baritz began a series of lectures on Sunday nights at the Strand Theatre. The series was "Love throughout the ages." His subjects were "Daphnis and Chloe", "Anthony and Cleopatra", "Heloise and Abelard", etc. After hearing some crude remark the respectable Melbourne men took their respectable young ladies out of the theatre and Moses was left talking to space till the lights went out. This ended the series rather abruptly.
On the lighter side, on one occasion Baritz settled down in Baracchi's place at South Yarra, gave Baracchi a long list of foods to buy and prepared a banquet to which he invited about eighteen people. His cooking was English with a Jewish flavour and it was quite an amazing idea to the Melburnians at this time to have a man (and a political one at that) cook a banquet for them. Baracchi's comment: "He was a dirty cook, there was fat all over the walls and ceiling."
The main value from his visit was that he stressed the importance of socialist study.
He helped broaden the understanding of the local people, many of them with syndicalist cum IWW ideas, by showing them that political action on a broad class scale was something distinct from political action confined to the Parliamentary sphere.
He left Australia in 1920, having been ordered out of New Zealand. Back in England he was for many years a music critic on the Manchester Guardian and finally transferred to the BBC. He apparently became tamed in politics.
In 1921 the shop had a mysterious visitor. A tall, thin man with dark glasses came in to see Laidler. Dark glasses were not a fashion. If worn it was for reasons of defective optical condition or disguise. Anyhow, the visitor known as Mr. Cox in Melbourne and Mr. Miller in Sydney, was in reality Paul Freeman who had been deported from Australia only two years earlier. He had been a member of the Broken Hill Branch of the ASP and was active against the war and conscription.
During 1919 he made a speech at Dobbin, near Cloncurry, Queensland. After the speech miners went on strike. Three days later, Freeman was prospecting 80 miles from Cloncurry and two policemen and a blacktracker came and collected him. He spent eleven days in Brisbane gaol without any bedding and was given no reason for his arrest.
He wrote letters, without reply, to the Minister for Defence and signed them "Paul Freeman, the victim of a mine owners' conspiracy."
It was alleged that he had said: "Anyone going to war was lower than a dog", and that he was connected with the IWW.
He was then taken to Darlinghurst gaol and subsequently put aboard the "Sonoma" on January 23rd. There is some mystery as to where Freeman was actually born. He had claimed that his birthplace was Mt. Vernon, USA, where George Washington was born.
The "Sonoma" took him to the USA which country refused to accept him saying there was no trace of his birth at Mt. Vernon.
He was shuttled back and forth, crossing the Pacific Ocean four times. The ship was back in Sydney when on 28th May, Freeman began a hunger strike. By June 1st he had been five days without food and a Dr. Clarke issued a statement that he might die at any time, his tongue was swollen and he could hardly speak. Three military men stood watch. In the meantime Sydney was aroused. 10,000 people headed by a brass band marched to Darling Harbour where the ship was berthed.
Percy Brookfield, the heroic member of Parliament from Broken Hill, who was to meet a martyr's death himself, addressed the crowd and threatened a Wharf Labourer's Strike and that they would pull the American sailors out. There was some claim now that Freeman was born in Canada, however the Acting Prime Minister said that Freeman was registered as an American alien born of German parents.
The Lord Mayor convened a meeting against his further detention, and the Town Hall was packed out. 5000 people marched down George Street to Circular Quay making no secret of their intention to board the ship. The police laid into them with batons. The Wharfies came out on strike and the Firemen and seamen on the ship said they would not man it unless Freeman was taken ashore.
On June 4th the Argus reported "Hunger Strike Succeeds" and Freeman was taken off the ship to the Garrison Hospital at Victoria Barracks pending an enquiry. Thousands had assembled. Pressmen, movie cameramen and photographers were on board ship when he was taken off. The demand was made by a deputation of Tudor, Maloney and Considine to Defence Minister, Senator Russell that there should be an open trial.
On October 10th Freeman was taken from Holdsworthy Barracks and put aboard the "Valencia" and deported to Germany with 500 Germans who cheered him as he came aboard.
From Germany he made his way to Leningrad and arrived in time for May Day celebrations in 1920.
Freeman came back to Australia on a false passport for three reasons—
(a) to give a firsthand account of what was happening in Russia;
(b) to arouse interest and obtain delegates to the World Congress of the "Red International of Trade and Industrial Unions" later known as the Red International of Labour Unions (R.I.L.U.); and
(c) to stimulate organisation of the young Communist Party.
The front page of the International Communist (formerly International Socialist) described as organ of the Third (Communist) International published by the C.P. of A. (The Australian section of the Third International), March 12th, 1921, had as headline: MOSCOW CALLS TO AUSTRALIA'S TRADE UNIONS — from Paul Freeman.
The following letter has been received by Comrade P. Lamb of Broken Hill, from comrade Paul Freeman, who is now in Moscow, and who, it will be remembered, was kicked out of Australia in well known circumstances.
The provisional International Council of Trade and Industrial Unions in Moscow have entrusted me with transmitting a call to the "Trade and Industrial Unions of Australia" to immediately send their delegates to the "World Congress of the Red International of Trade and Industrial Unions", which will be opened on the 1st May, 1921, in Moscow. Therefore on behalf of the "Provisional I.C. of T. & I. Unions" I have the honour to extend the hearty invitation to the "T. & L Unions" of Australia to send their delegates with full powers to Moscow. Urgent not to delay in putting it to AMA and other unions in Broken Hill and all over Australia.
The reactionaries of English and Australian Governments, their secret jealous prying into the international communications of labour organisations, with a definite view of preventing a better understanding between the great masses of the world proletariat kept separated by the national, artificial and other invisible barriers in their titanic struggle against world capitalism, necessitated the use of underground methods in order to communicate with the Australian labor organisations. Much as I wished to deliver the message entrusted to me, to the militant proletariat of Australia personally, the reactionary Prussianised Federal Government activities precluded it. Some days ago I forwarded to you the manifesto to organised workers of Australia. Best wishes from Soviet Russian workers and hope to see them as members of the vast proletarian family.
Personal greetings and thanks to those who fought for me at the time of my prosecution. Long live CI, long live RILTU.
Yours with Communist greetings, PAUL FREEMAN.
The Manifesto referred to, is printed in the same issue, taking a full page and signed by M. Tomsky, Russia; A. Rossmer, France; J. T. Murphy, Britain.
Freeman, of course, did deliver the statement in person and the way it was presented in the paper was supposed to help camouflage his presence.
"Cox" made it known to Laidler that he wanted to address, and be questioned by, a representative group of trusted and reliable members of the movement and asked him to organise such a meeting. This was done quite simply and at short notice, by means of the telephone, a visit to the Trades Hall, and a stroll around city streets. In 1921 there was no radio, television or money to spend. Numbers of workers, particularly politically minded men and especially single men, having no money had nothing to do and would walk into the city on Saturday afternoon and walk around the streets, in the hope of meeting kindred souls when they would stop on a street corner, or against a lamppost and have a chat or an argument as the case may be. This gave rise to members of the establishment and their supporters coining phrases meant to be derogatory, such as "Holding up a lamp-post", "Street corner loafers". Suffice to say that when Perc walked down Bourke Street, along Swanston Street, up Flinders Street and back to Bourke Street via Russell Street he had informed a considerable number of people of what was afoot. With his enjoyment of the dramatic, it was with great pleasure that he walked up to a man and after bidding him good-day, hissed to the startled man, "Freeman's here!"
Over twenty people turned up and it is remarkable to record that no police had been informed. During his stay in Melbourne, Perc took him up to Parliament House to have lunch with Mick Considine, member of the House of Representatives for the Barrier electorate (he was one who had worked for Freeman during the deportation fracas).
In Sydney Freeman was known as "Miller" and he was cheeky enough to attend an ordinary meeting in the Socialist Hall.
In Sydney there were two conflicting groups in the new Communist Party. It is alleged that as Freeman did not endorse as the "true" Communists, the group led by Jock Garden, this group informed on him to the authorities. Whether or no, the authorities gave no indication. Possibly they didn't want to show they had been fooled by him arriving and accomplishing his mission, and that they considered the fact that he was about to leave the country and thought it best to ignore the whole operation.
Australian delegates secured by Freeman were Alf Rees, Paddy Lamb, J. Howie and W. P. Earsman. Freeman himself counted as an Australian delegate.
The August 6th issue of the International Communist reported to the effect that a cable from Riga gave news of a train smash when a number of delegates leaving Moscow were injured and six killed—two of the latter were Howett of England and Frimack of Australia. The paper comments "it could be Freeman but it may be press lies". However, later information confirmed that it had been Freeman who was killed, whilst delegate Paddy Lamb of Broken Hill sat by his side. Fortunately Paddy escaped injury.
Freeman's untimely death was mourned in Australia.
At some other time two Russians appeared and arranged to spend the whole of one night duplicating, in a room adjoining the shop. They disappeared as abruptly as they arrived.
The book Solidarity Forever! is Copyright © the estate of Bertha Walker 1972.
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