Bob Gould, 1937-2011

Submitted by martin on 24 May, 2011 - 1:51

Bob Gould, who died on 22 May at the age of 74, was the human link between the old Trotskyist movement in Australia and today's left.


The Trotskyist group he joined in Sydney in 1957 was, so Bob told me when I asked him about it, "not really a group". It was a collection of people, each with his or her own activity in the Australian Labor Party or elsewhere, who gathered occasionally to hear its main figure, Nick Origlass, a veteran from the 1930s, hold forth.

It was much more isolated from the rest of the world than the Australian left is today. Nick Origlass himself did not go overseas to meet other Trotskyists until 1976-7, and there were no Trotskyists from overseas coming to Australia on young people's working visas or on holidays. There was no internet. International phone calls were prohibitively expensive. The link to the outside world was the overseas Trotskyist press arriving in the mail.

Nick had sympathised with Michel Pablo when in 1953 the "orthodox Trotskyists" split between a current led by Pablo and a current led by the Socialist Workers' Party in the USA. He now had to seek enlightenment from the French-language press.

Denis Freney, who like Bob came into the Trotskyist movement in 1957 from a Communist Party background (but, unlike Bob, later went back to the CP), has described when Bob first took him to meet Nick. "After a few inquiries about my background, [Nick] began to read a document that he had just received from... Pablo. Nick was translating from the French as he read, speaking in nearly incomprehensible English in what I realised was a very literal translation. Every few minutes he would halt in mid-sentence to consult a large French-English dictionary...

"Nick was a self-taught man, whose dedication... had led him painstakingly to study French after a hard day's work as a labourer".

Whatever the difficulties, Bob learned about the basics of Trotskyism and stuck to them. When a different strain of "orthodox Trotskyism" entered Australia, brought by chance by a young member of Gerry Healy's group in Britain who had emigrated, he veered towards that rather than Origlass's "Pabloism".

In 1965 Bob became a public figure, as secretary of the movement against the Vietnam war, which would bring a new generation into left politics and consume Bob's energies until Australian troops quit Vietnam in 1972.

That movement also politicised two brothers studying at Sydney University, Jim and John Percy, and with Bob they set up a socialist youth movement, Resistance, in 1967. This was a new start for the Trotskyist movement in Australia, and separate from the old Origlass group.

In 1969 Barry Shepherd, then a leader of the American SWP [no relation to the SWP-UK, and then an "orthodox Trotskyist" group], chose to drop by Sydney on his way back to the USA from an international Trotskyist gathering in Europe.

He convinced the Percy brothers, and they started building along SWP-US lines. In 1970 Resistance split, with Bob Gould on one side and the Percy brothers on the other.

The Percy brothers set up the Socialist Workers' League in 1972. They would track along with the SWP-US, including in its break from any sort of Trotskyism to a species of Castroism after 1979, until the mid-1980s, and then developed a course of their own, as Castroite as the SWP's but more open and flexible in its approach, and less sect-like. Jim Percy died in 1992. John Percy was expelled in 2008 from the DSP (the group that the SWL had developed into). He now leads a group called the Revolutionary Socialist Party, in competition with the DSP (renamed Socialist Alliance) though equally Castroite.

Bob Gould did not consolidate a formal group of his own, but he remained active in the Australian Labor Party and on the left, and always with a circle of political associates, until his death. In recent years he was active on the Ozleft website.

His political activity for the last forty years was intertwined with his work as a bookseller. His was the largest second-hand bookshop in Australia, and far larger than any second-hand bookshop in London. As well as ordinary commercial stock, it had a vast range of socialist, Marxist, and Trotskyist texts, piled on overflowing shelves or stacked on the floor.

Every time you went into the shop, Bob would have some new text which he would insist you had to buy and read. He saw it as part of his political work, I think, to push young Trotskyists, at least the ones interested enough to visit his shop, into reading books that would make them think.

And Bob would always have a political argument to have with you. Although his daughter Natalie Gould worked with AWL when she spent time in London in the 1980s, and presumably on his recommendation, Bob was always an "orthodox Trotskyist" of sorts, and never on the same wavelength as AWL. We were often at odds, and sometimes infuriatingly so.

But you always got a political argument from Bob, not a bureaucratic brush-off. He was always an educator, even if the education you received was through the effort of working out where he was wrong.

More here on Nick Origlass.

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Submitted by martin on Sat, 04/06/2011 - 18:19

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