The Guardian November 28, 2001

Obituary:

Edgar Agent Ross
a life of struggle

On Friday November 16, Edgar Ross's long and eventful life came to an 
end. Edgar was born as a second son to Bob and Ethel Ross on November 
20, 1904. Both Edgar and his elder brother Lloyd were born in Brisbane 
although the family had moved to Broken Hill in 1903.

Edgar's mother was the daughter of an early pioneering family, the 
Slaughters, and Edgar's father was from similar stock.

The influence of Edgar's father was significant. He was a newspaper editor, 
but also diversified his interests in such organisations as the Free 
Thoughts Society, the Socialist League and the Social Democratic Vanguard, 
the latter two of which Edgar's father was a foundation member.

The family was associated with early socialist and labour movements 
including the Lane brothers, William, Ernest and John, who were involved in 
the Communist Colony in Paraguay.

Edgar's family moved from Broken Hill to Melbourne and there was a brief 
period where the family lived in New Zealand, his father being the editor 
of the Maoriland Worker, the official paper of the New Zealand 
Federation of Labor.

Edgar began his education at Fairfield Public School which was followed by 
attendance at University High. He was an active member of the school 
Debating Society, played the piano and cornet and participated in school 
plays. He was also in the school football team. He was academically gifted 
and was in the top of his school in academic achievements.

Edgar chose a career in journalism and politics. His early development was 
influenced by attendances at the socialist Sunday school organised by the 
Victorian Socialist Party.

Edgar's interest in the Russian Revolution and socialism was further 
fuelled by his work for Will Smith, the Secretary of the Australian 
Railways Union who was a founding member of the Red International of Labor 
unions.

Edgar worked in a printery and then eventually for the Melbourne 
Argus as a cadet journalist. He was dismissed from the Argus 
when due for a pay rise and took a position on the Barrier Truth in 
Broken Hill, where his father had been an editor.

Edgar worked in Broken Hill for some 10 years. In those years Broken Hill 
was a strongly socialist town with anarchist leanings. The boarding house 
in which Edgar lodged was the centre of refuge for many socialist 
agitators. 

The Labour movement had many publications including daily newspapers. One 
such publication was The World on which Edgar became a 
correspondent.

He joined a number of organisations including the Militant Minority 
Movement, the Communist Party's movement within the trade union movement, 
and also became a member of the Workers' Educational Association.

In Broken Hill he met and married his life-long companion, Patricia 
Josephine McLauchlan (Tessie) who was the daughter of a miner and herself 
involved in the activities of the Workers' Movement of Broken Hill.

Edgar was an active member of the Unemployed Workers' Movement and of the 
Movement Against War and Fascism. He was also a Friend of the Soviet Union 
and a member of the Broken Hill.

In 1933 Edgar joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) as a so-called 
undercover member. He had also joined the Miners' Federation and as an 
employee of the Barrier Truth was active in the Broken Hill 
political scene.

In that year communists were elected to the leadership of the Miners' 
Federation  William Orr as the General Secretary and Charles Nelson as 
the President.

Edgar was offered the editorship of the union's weekly paper Common 
Cause. This involved a move to Sydney.

As part of his new responsibilities, Edgar was dispatched to coalfields to 
address meetings of miners' lodges. In this new role he gathered 
information on the industry, prepared union conferences and eventually 
became involved in the executive discussions.

In Sydney, Edgar became involved in the Political Committee and the Central 
Committee of the CPA and became the Vice-President of its Sydney District 
Committee.

Edgar represented the union on the NSW Labor Council and was a recognised 
voice for the Communist Party on that body. During his time in Sydney, he 
became involved in the struggle against Jack Lang and his control over the 
Labor Party. He played a critical role in exposing Lang's sympathies for 
fascist Italy. These exposures were done using the Labor Council's radio 
station 2KY and the Labor Daily to alert Labor Party members to the 
issues.

Edgar worked with journalists Rupert Lockwood and Bill Wood on the Labor 
Daily until the Second World War and continued until he and others were 
purged from the organisation. The newspaper was handed over to Consolidated 
Press who promptly closed it down.

The influence of Edgar and others extended into the Labor Party because of 
the leadership role the CPA played in the opposition to fascism and war. 
Edgar was active in the Heffron Labor Party which resulted in overcoming 
Jack Lang's leadership of the Labor Party (it is interesting to see the 
role that Paul Keating, a protege of Jack Lang has played in later 
politics).

The development of the political left within the union movement and the 
Labor Party and the opposition to fascism resulted in the situation in 1940 
in which the NSW Labor Party conference actively endorsed calls for further 
socialist activity and endorsed the actions of the Soviet Union moving its 
armies into Finland to head off a Nazi attack.

The resultant controversy led to a split in the NSW Labor Party and the 
formation of the State Labor Party. Edgar was co-opted to its executive. He 
conducted the Party's radio session on 2UE and played a prominent role in 
organising the Party before it eventually amalgamated with the CPA.

Edgar was also involved in the Communist Party during its period of 
illegality and was active in efforts to protect the Party from Bob Menzies 
during the early part of World War 11.

With the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany and the changed 
character of the war, the Communist Party became involved in supporting the 
war effort. In his role as editor of Common Cause, Edgar was active 
in moves to boost coal production and the avoid industrial action where 
possible.

In one of those strange twists of history, Edgar also found himself a 
member of the People's Army. The conservative politician WC Wentworth was 
the General and the future High Court Judge. Jessie Street was also a 
member. The Army was formed to defend Australia against Japanese invasion.

He also found himself sharing platforms to raise money for war bonds with 
politicians of all political shades.

After the war Edgar was involved in the new deal committees organised by 
the Communist Party and contested the elections for the Mascot City 
Council. Edgar himself was not elected, but others were including to the 
Sydney City Council.

During the post-war period the Cold War had begun and Catholic 
organisations were being set up to attack communists at public meetings.

Edgar was the Communist Party representative in a debate with a Father Ryan 
who was the leader of an organisation called Catholic Social Services.

This debate took place in Rushcutter Bay Stadium to an audience of 15,000 
seated inside and a further 15,000 listening on loud speakers outside the 
stadium. The debate resulted in that Catholic organisation being abandoned 
but the overall push continued against the communists.

In 1949 a strike movement developed within the coal mining union. The 
communists were opposed to a strike for tactical reasons and Edgar 
attempted to try to get a back door deal to avert the strike. However the 
Chifley Government was intent on teaching the communists a lesson and 
despite the interventions the strike went ahead.

The union was subjected to severe repression and subsequent to the strike 
the communist union officials lost their positions. Contrary his public 
statements, the new General Secretary George Neilly continued to employ 
Edgar as the editor of Common Cause and Edgar continued to provide 
the same service that he had to the previous officials.

In 1954 Edgar represented the Miners' Central Council on a trip to China 
and the Soviet Union and continued to play a role on many international 
delegations. He remained an active member of the Communist Party until 1968 
when he was expelled during bitter differences with the new leadership of 
the Communist Party under the Aarons brothers.

After 40 years in the Miners' Federation, Edgar retired, but before he did 
so, he embarked on a journey of historic research. The outcome of this 
research resulting in a book on the history of the Miners' Federation.

Whilst being opposed to the formation of a new party, Edgar still, 
nevertheless, wrote a program for the newly-formed Socialist Party of 
Australia, which was presented to the Foundation Conference in 1971.

Under representations from the leading members of that new party Edgar 
joined and remained a dedicated member of that Party and the newly-re-
badged Communist Party.

Like many retirees, Edgar travelled Australia extensively and was devoted 
to caravanning. He still found time to continue his intellectual work and 
left a legacy of work on Australian labour history and several publications 
including a book titled Of Storm and Struggle. He completed a 
biography of his father and continued to attend public gatherings and to 
speak passionately of labour struggles and for the cause of socialism.

Those who knew and heard Edgar appreciated his outstanding merit as a 
public speaker which was capped with his ability to recite from memory such 
epic poetry as The Sentimental Bloke, a traditional favourite of 
his.

In his 97 years of life, Edgar remained an unflinching, dedicated supporter 
of labour. The rights of working men and women and the oppressed were his 
cause. His commitment was to socialist ideals.

He was committed to a true historical record of the labour movement. This 
commitment extended to his struggles with some who would misrepresent the 
history of the movement. This included his arguments with the presenters of 
the television series The True Believers, who presented Edgar as a 
drunk and portrayed his wife as being opposed to his position during the 
coal miners' dispute.

Edgar successfully argued with the producer, and the script writer Bob 
Ellis insisted on having his name removed from the credits because of these 
inaccuracies. 

Edgar was a teetotaller and his wife was a loyal supporter of the movement 
and had worked to prevent the strike for the obvious reasons.

Edgar's was a life worked in struggle to its fullest extent and dedicated 
to improve the lot of humanity.

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