The Guardian 20 April, 2005

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Further Comments on Egon Kisch

Among the many "reforms" that the Howard government intends to implement are three that will impact on the labour movement. These concern, first, restriction of civil rights, i.e. getting rid of obsolete survivals from Magna Carta, such as Habeas Corpus, presumption of innocence, the right to be represented by a lawyer of your choice, etc. Next is the "reform" of industrial law and the ultimate destruction or emasculation of trade unions. The thirds is reform of the electoral laws as considered desirable either by the employers or the USA.

Australia is unfortunate in that its otherwise rather rigid constitution leaves too much in the hands of the legislature.

The aims of these reforms have at least two aspects.

One primary aim is the reduction of the real wages and the "freeing up" of conditions of employment but also, as part of this, is the overall weakening of the labour movement and the removal of any of its legal methods of defence.

This is bad enough, but there is another result, intentional or not. These changes open the road to Fascism, which needs a weakened and/or badly divided labour movement to facilitate its coming to power.

For this reason, among others, I think that The Guardian's publishing of two articles by Bob Briton about Egon Kisch (Guardian…) is particularly valuable at this time.

When Kisch arrived in Australia, very few Australian had heard of him. Kisch, with the help of R G Menzies and others soon changed this. His visit gave considerable encouragement and inspiration to the Peace Movement and to the anti-fascist cause.

I would like to recommend two books about Kisch which (together with Kisch's Australian Landfall) tell us a lot about his life and work. Kisch was first and foremost a journalist and reporter and the first book I will mention is E E Kisch, Journalist and Fighter by J Tomas and D Kozlova published by the I O J, Prague 1985. The second is Egon Kisch, The Raging Reporter by H B Segel, published by Purdue University Press.

Both books include biographies of Kisch and a discussion of his work as well as selections from his journalistic publications. The books are written from somewhat different political viewpoints but both give, I believe, good accounts of Kisch's work and his importance as a journalist.

At first glance one might ask, were two books, so similar is their subject matter, necessary. It turns out however that reading both is worthwhile. While some overlap in biography, etc is inevitable, it turns out that in the selection of Kisch's work there are sufficient differences to make reading both worthwhile, both as regards the selections from Kisch's work and the discussions by the authors and/or editors.

Segel, for example, produces Kisch's account of the exposure and forced suicide of Colonel Alfred Redl just before the First World War. Redl was spying for Russia, while he held the position of "Chief of Staff of the 8th Corps of the Austro-Hungarian Army".

Tomas and Kozlova do not include this lengthy article which greatly enhanced Kisch's reputation, but on the other hand publish Kisch's description of Karl Marx's stays in Karlovy Vary.

Kisch's work is often entertaining, while at the same time reminding us of his basic outlook.

A good example of this is given by Tomas and Kozlova who include, unlike Segel, his account of the rickshaws in China and the exploitation of the men who pulled them. These two authors also include one of Kisch's best known stories, "The Three Cows", about two young Swiss farmers who sold their means of livelihood to get to Spain to join the International Brigade.

Kisch's reporting covered the world from Mexico to Australia and from Spain to China! Segel brings out a characteristic of Kisch's which is very important — a characteristic closely associated with his Communist outlook. He writes, referring to an early sketch by Kisch, "Having fabricated an incident in a report about a fire in a local mill in a way that reporters were often expected to do at that time, he felt a sense of self-betrayal. He vowed thereafter that, no matter how difficult, he would pursue only the truth as real reporter, but that he would strive, as an artist, to present that truth in as engaging a manner as possible."

Segel quotes Kisch who briefly comments on the same question, "Yesterday for the first time I made something up, and everybody believed it… Should I keep telling lies? No. It was precisely because truth escaped me when I pursued it the first time, that I wanted to track it down in the future. It was the only thing to do."

Tom Gill

The Legacy of Laurie Aarons

I am sure Peter Symon's article "The Legacy of Laurie Aarons" (Guardian 13-04-05) brought back some memories for those of us who lived and worked in that period.

The things that stand out in my mind were the attempts to denigrate Marxism and even eliminate it as a force for social change. I recall an Aarons supporter and prominent trade unionist at the time declaring we have freed ourselves from dogma, meaning they had thrown Marxism Leninism out the window.

Before that the tale was put about that Marx and Engels changed their own ideas but no one could tell us what they changed them to, or produce any writings that contained their allegedly changed ideas.

Later came the idea that I believe is still around, that Marxism is out of date because Marx never knew about computers. The truth is that Marx didn't need to know computers to understand their place in technology and their role in social change.

But Marxism has survived all these legends and is still the most important guiding light for changing the world.

However we should not be complacent. All progressives need to constantly reinforce their knowledge of theory and guard the integrity of Marxism Leninism from further attacks.

Ron Barrett
Mt Druitt NSW

Pie in the sky

In a broadcast on Catholics in the poverty stricken cities of Brazil a comment was made that "they live in hell but want to go to heaven". They have no hope about their life on earth and "hope" that something better awaits them in an after life. That's what the clerics tell them.

But the remarks of Karl Marx on religion are nearer the real truth.

He wrote: "Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion … Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.

"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness".*

Joe Hill the songwriter put it more simply: "You'll get pie in the sky when you die. That's a lie!"

Eyes open
Sydney, NSW

* Karl Marx. Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1844)

Howard's land rights theft

It is encouraging to see that some Aboriginal leaders are looking askance at the proposed changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act NT. These changes are intended to make land held under the act alienable, as opposed to the present system.

Such a situation would be dangerous enough in that any such alienated land would be lost forever. But people should not think that this is the only intent of the proposed changes.

A much more malevolent intent is to force Indigenous groups to sign agreements with mining companies so that these areas can be stripped of their natural resources. Well, the holes in the ground and the pollution will remain, any money will fast disappear.

This is contemptuous racism at its worst. Unfortunately, the scheme appears to have multilateral support amongst the Territory's political parties - with the possible exception of the Greens.

Col Friel
Alawa, ACT

Not good for the blood pressure

There are several issues, which affect my blood pressure at the moment. First of all, all this wailing about the minimum wages and how if, God forbid low-paid workers get some money "the economy" would be "ruined". Some economy, then. For as long as I remember it was the same response. CEOs, parliamentarians — past, present and future, governors-general and others — "the economy" could always carry those with their privileges and salaries. But not workers.

Old people have been told that they are a "burden" on society too. To listen to our treasurer, the ageing population is like an army of terrorists — ready to sap life out of the same economy. What kind of society is it that washes its hands of the old people who had worked all their lives, went to wars, brought up children and built up the wealth of the country?

Now when they need help and assistance, the only thing they get from the government is insecurity and fear about their future. The government spins yarns about their concern about the young and the old and at the same time hits them with GST, cuts to all sorts of things — from childcare to Medicare.

The Howard government always finds money for wars, for Star Wars programs and the like. Spending $55 million a day on the military is fine. How many hip replacements and dental procedures can this sort of money cover? And how long can we tolerate this sort of attitude from the government which takes our money through GST and other taxes and wastes it?

The bastards should not be only voted out, they should get long-term prison sentences for the pain and suffering they cause to decent people.

Jean Hopkins
Brisbane, Qld

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