Murder will out


An open letter to members of the Communist Party

The Militant, Sydney, April 1940

Guido Baracchi


Bob Gould

Guido Baracchi led an interesting, colourful and useful life on the left. I first laid eyes on Guido at a meeting of the general branch of the clerks’ union in 1955, which I attended along with other leftists in the orbit of the Communist Party in an attempt to outstack the Groupers in the run-up to a clerks’ union election.

This little, old, white-haired guy made a fiery speech from the floor attacking the Grouper leadership of the union. I was sitting next to the key figure of the Labor left in the union, who was in fact a key figure in the interface between the Labor left and the Communist Party, and I asked, “Who’s that?” The response was: “Be careful of him, he fell out with the party years ago. He’s a Trotskyite.” That was a term of abuse with which I was just becoming acquainted.

After my own break from the orbit of Stalinism a year or so later, I got to know Guido quite well, and I told him that story.

Baracchi was enormously knowledgable about the history of the socialist movement, Marxism and many other things, and during his long and unusual life he was married several times to interesting and independent women, and he was associated with a number of important figures in Australian left politics and cultural life.

For instance, he was involved in the important artists’ colony at Montsalvat, near Melbourne, which was such a significant place in the development of artistic modernism in Australia.

When I knew Guido, he was pretty old, but he was up to his ears in Nick Origlass’s small Trotskyist group, and in all the battles against Grouper domination of the NSW Labor Party.

In later life he made a bit of a ritual of working all day for the ALP on election days which, he explained carefully to young players like myself, covered him for a multitude of other revolutionary sins in Labor circles.

It was characteristic of Guido that he conked out at a great age after working all day on a very hot day for the Labor Party on a polling booth in the bitterly fought election of December 13, 1975, after the dismissal of the Whitlam government by Governor General John Kerr on November 11, 1975.

The most culturally well-known of Guido’s wives was the playwright Betty Roland, who herself wrote several volumes of autobiography, which I still have available in my bookshop.

Freda Utley, whose bitter experiences turned her into an anti-communist, wrote several books about her disillusioning experiences in Russia: Odyssey of a liberal, Lost illusion and The dream we lost.

Michelle Arrow recently published an interesting book called Upstaged, Australian women dramatists in the limelight at last (Currency Press, 2002). This is an important study of Australian female playwrights, and Betty Roland figures prominently in it.

Murder will out

Dear comrades,

On March 3, while waiting on the Sydney Domain to speak from the platform of the Communist League, some words just reached my ears from a neighbouring platform. The speaker was the Stalinist leader J.B. Miles; he was a bilious colour and his words were splenetic: Baracchi … pseudo-Marxist … agent of Menzies”. Somebody must have given him a copy of my leaflet: Who is the coward — J.B. Miles’ record and mine, I commented at the time.

I will not waste one word over stupid lies nobody in the labour movement who knows me will believe, except to say that not long ago the Stalinist leaders used to consider me a good enough Marxist to dig up for him appropriate passages from Marx with which he was unacquainted. Moreover, it was unquestionably Miles himself who served as the agent of Menzies during the period when the former was publicly supporting the imperialist war, with the result that such “Milesileers” as he recruited to the Second AIF are now being held in readiness for an assault on the Soviet oil wells.

However, on March 3, some further jaundiced words from him reached me across the Domain: “Baracchi … associate of spies in the Soviet Union”. And then, as if to substantiate this assertion: “Associated with Freda Utley‘s husband, who was arrested there as a spy.” The old boy must have done his block, I commented again.

Honour impugned

This lie, too, I would prefer to pass by with silent contempt, since my loyalty to the Soviet Union, despite the Stalin government of the bureaucracy, is not in doubt, and Miles has himself paid tribute to my work there before a third person. But inasmuch as the Stalinist leader has sought publicly to impugn the honour of a friend of mine, a Soviet citizen than whom I have known none more devoted to the USSR; inasmuch, moreover, as it is a political duty to the working class to expose the nature of the Stalinist leadership, I am once more compelled to pick up the gage Miles was foolish enough to throw down.

Who is Freda Utley? Her father was a friend of Frederick Engels; her mother was a friend of Edward Aveling, author of The Student’s Marx, part translator of Capital and lover of Marx’s daughter, Eleanor. Freda Utley early became a Communist; wrote books on Lancashire, Japan and China; worked for years in the Communist Academy in Moscow, and finally broke with Stalinism.

Who is (or was) Freda Utley’s husband? Arcadi Burdichevsky was a member of the Soviet Trade Delegation in Britain at the time of the Arcos raid, after which he was deported to the USSR. He also served with the Soviet Trade Delegation in Japan; and subsequently became vice-chairman of an export trust in Moscow.

How did the central executive of the Communist Party know that I was associated with Freda Utley and her husband? Only because I myself had long ago stated this fact. I met them because the British Society for Cultural Relations with the Soviet Union asked me to take them a parcel from London. They befriended me, helped me to find work in Moscow, and let me have the use of one of their two rooms, the Soviet organisation for which I worked agreeing.

How did the central executive know Freda Utley’s husband had been arrested? Only because I myself had long ago made known this face. S. Purdy, the Communist Party functionary, had got hold of some cock-and-bull story that Freda Utley’s father had been arrested. It was I who made known that he was long dead, and was subsequently able to tell the true story. Purdy himself has “associated with” someone who was arrested in the Soviet Union while the former was still there. (This is nothing against Purdy, who was quite in the dark about the matter.) I was in the Soviet Union during 1933-34 and Freda Utley’s husband was only arrested there long afterwards.

A spy?

Was Freda Utley’s husband arrested “as a spy”? No, he was not. I first learnt of his arrest from a letter written by Freda Utley to Betty Roland at the end of 1938. Betty Roland handed it over to me, and I took it straight away to R. Dixon, of the central executive of the Communist Party. In deference to his views, I showed it to scarcely anyone else, not even to Katherine Prichard, who is mentioned in it, and whom it concerns. During 1933 in the Soviet Union, Arcade Burdichevsky was her friend too. Will she now speak up like a true woman on his behalf and tell what manner of man she found him? Indeed, to the present day, very few people have seen this letter. And while the Soviet-Finnish war still raged, I deliberately withheld publication of it even in answer to Miles’ public attempt to smear Freda Utley’s husband as a “spy” and myself as “an associate of spies in the Soviet Union” (as said above, I would disdain answering this last assertion now, if it stood alone), or yet, for the purpose of exposing the nature of the Stalinist leadership. But now the Soviet Union is again at peace, now it becomes unavoidable to take up Miles’ challenge by giving the authentic source of his “revelations”. This agent of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, though by no means of the Soviet working people, is himself wholly responsible for the final publication of the letter that follows, since, had he not sought to put it to such base uses, it could still have remained a private communication and he would have served his masters better.

Freda Utley’s letter

    Dear Betty,
    I have been in China and the USA, and only got home just before Christmas. I therefore only received your letter of September 16 a few days ago. It was a great pleasure to hear from you … I will give you my news briefly as I am snowed under with work. Arcadi was arrested in April 1936. No trial and no charge beyond having “been friendly or acquainted with a Trotskyist”. I have tried everything I could to get him out and am now threatening publicity. I had a postcard from him a year and a half ago, and since then nothing. He was sent to the Arctic. The brutes won’t even allow me a word from him to know if he is dead or alive. They are even more inhuman than the Germans. It has been very terrible. I have never seen him since the night they took him away. I left because of Jon [her little son — GB]; I was afraid they might hurt him as you know they try to force “confessions” by threatening the victim with what they will do to his family.I then had to start making a living in England again. It was difficult at first. Luckily, Japan’s feet of clay [her book — GB] was a success. Also the new one. I have been in China as correspondent of the News Chronicle. Am going to the USA to do a lecture tour in February. Did some lecturing there on the way home …I have not pretended to be a Stalinist but have kept my mouth shut about Russia until now. Naturally I have no illusions left — nor had any before they took Arcadi. I am not a Trotskyist as I have become convinced that all dictatorships are much the same and that power corrupts everyone. Without democracy there can be no real socialism. But I fear the world is progressing towards “National Socialism” on the Russian-German model. Little difference between them.

    This will probably horrify you both. Sorry.

    Please let me know what you have seen in the paper about D. He was arrested shortly after Arcadi and I never knew his fate. K was not arrested that I know of but I get no letters from Russia. It is dangerous for anyone there to write to anyone abroad and naturally more so to me because of Arcadi.

    AL’s husband was arrested — saw that in the New York Times Also the KKs. Just about everyone. All the communists and socialists have been, or are being, liquidated.

    I have a terrible lot of work. A new book to write (on China) before the end of January. So excuse the short scrawl.

    My love to you both. Glad you are both doing well … Love to Katherine P if you see her.


Retreating from Marxism

As an unconditional defender of the Soviet Union, let me at once warn every reader of this letter that it is absolutely necessary to distinguish sharply between Freda Utley’s opinions and, above all, political conclusions, and the grim facts she relates. I do not accept her opinions (“they are even more inhuman than the Germans”) and I reject her political conclusions entirely. Today she is obviously not a Marxist, but an “intellectual in retreat” from Marxism. Historical materialism and the class struggle have simply dropped out of her calculations. “All dictatorships are much the same.” — on the contrary, they are as essentially different as the social classes on which they rest. “Power corrupts everyone.” — She has forgotten Marx’s words: “A development of the productive forces is the absolutely necessary practical premise [of Communism], because without it want is generalised, and with want the struggle for necessities begins again, and that means that all the old crap must revive.” On the contrary, with the development of the necessary material and, therewith, cultural conditions, this power of man over man with be overthrown forever. “Without democracy there can be no real socialism.” — On the other hand, only through the revolutionary victory of the proletariat can we attain to socialism and real democracy. “I fear the world is progressing towards …” — Lenin, on the contrary, was a defeatist at the expense of the oppressors, not the oppressed. “National Socialism on the Russian-German model. Little difference between them.” — On the contrary, they are as different as is a workers’ state, even if degenerated, from putrefying monopoly capital.

Middle-class conclusions

From Stalinism’s misdeeds Freda Utley draws the middle-class conclusion. The former would throw out the Soviet baby with the Stalinist bathwater. The latter resolves to defend the Soviet Union (whose essence lies in the publicly owned means of production) not worse, but better than the Stalinist misleadership. This is just as elementary as it is for a worker not to scab on his trade union because it happens to have fallen for the time being into the hands of reactionary officials. After this warning against the opinions and political conclusions of the above letter, we can now return to the facts.

What sort of man had I found Freda Utley’s husband? Of all the people I met during 15 months’ stay in the Soviet Union, I consider he was the best Soviet citizen. I slept in the next room to his and, if ever I awoke in the small hours, his light was nearly always burning; he was still toiling in the interests of his organisation. And, on his free day, how much more often than others, did this man betake himself to a collective farm to fight the weeds. As an intelligent propagandist for the Soviet Union he was hard to beat; none could introduce a stranger into the USSR more effectively. He knew just how to prepare one against disappointments, how to prevent inevitable shortcomings getting out of perspective in one’s mind. Politically it happened that he was a sincere follower of Stalin’s “general line”. He had not been a member of the Communist Party in the early days and, characteristically, he could not later bring himself to enter it by competing in sycophancy with careerists now coming to it. From outside, he served “the Party” more selflessly than they. The fact that he was vice-chairman of an Export Trust whilst not a party member is in itself a remarkable recommendation of this modest and unobtrusive Soviet citizen.

If she will, Katherine Pritchard can confirm the substance of what I have just written. Most of it I related to R. Dixon when I took him Freda Utley’s letter early in 1939. Pitifully inadequate as it is, I give Dixon’s comment: “There may have been a miscarriage of justice,” he said. But in fact there wsa “no trial and no charge beyond having been friendly or acquainted with a Trotskyist”. How stands it, then, with “inviolability of person” under Stalinist administration of the “freest constitution in the world”? Dixon added: “I can understand your being upset; a couple of friends of mine were also arrested in the Soviet Union.”

It appears, then, that so far as my “association with” an arrested man in the Soviet Union is concerned, Dixon, Purdy and Katherine Pritchard are in the same boat with me, that is, we are all equally guiltless in this matter. It is true that I have knowingly “associated with” one Soviet spy, but she was a spy for the Soviet Union.

As for Freda Utley’s husband, I would stake my life he was never a spy against the USSR (nor was he arrested as such); rather I know him as its truest defender.

Strictures on J.B. Miles

As for the Stalinist leader J.B. Miles, and his assertions, I recall the following strictures in an editorial article of the official organ of the Communist Party, The Communist of September 30, 1921: “The fact that Miles was threatened with expulsion himself by the CE while in Sydney shows that we were aware of some of the things that were being done within our party by this pimp … So much for the miserable record of this ‘Marxian’ who has proved himself to be both a liar and a scoundrel.” I would not now say that J.B. Miles is a pimp; today this Stalinist leader expects others to do his pimping for him. With the remaining designations of him by the Communist Party, I cannot say that I find myself in disagreement.

With communist greetings.

Notes on Guido Baracchi

Born in 1887, the son of Italian nobleman who was the Victorian government astronomer, Guido Baracchi became a socialist while visiting Europe shortly before World War I.

On returning to Melbourne he opposed conscription for military service, and was jailed for that in 1918. He began working closely with Percy Laidler of the Victorian Socialist Party, and with Andrade’s bookshop, and was a founder of the Victorian Labor College.

He joined the International Industrial Workers, the name of the IWW in Victoria at that time, and edited its paper, Industrial Solidarity, until 1920. With Laidler, he edited The Proletarian Review in 1920-21, a magazine that was later to become the theoretical journal of the Communist Party. He was a founding member of the CPA and set up its Victorian branch in November 1920.

He visited Europe again in 1921, where he joined the German Communist Party and became editor of Inprecor, the English-language magazine of the Comintern. In 1924 he visited Britain and joined the British Communist Party.

On returning to Australia in 1925, he advocated liquidation of the CPA because it had become isolated from the working class, and was expelled. He left Australia again, and joined the German CP in 1935. In 1939, back in Australia, Baracchi spoke out against the Stalin-Hitler Pact and was expelled again, joining the Trotskyists later in 1939.

Guido Baracchi died on December 13, 1975, when he collapsed after working for the Labor Party on a polling booth on election day.


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