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Learning from Ken Miller's Life
By E.F. Hill, former chairman of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist- Leninist)
(from Australian Communist March/April 1987 No. 140)
The anniversary of Ken Miller's birth is marked by Australian Communist each year.
Why? It is not because Miller was some mystical figure. It is because a great deal can be learned from his example. He and I were direct contemporaries even to the degree of our childhood and part of our teenage years being spent in the Victorian provincial city of Ballarat where our parents lived.
Ken Miller truly served the Australian people. He certainly put Communist ideology in the first place. He came to Communism through hard experience in the depression of the 'thirties. This turned him to reading and drinking deeply of the Marxist classics. I think no single Australian Communist knew more of the classics of Marxism than Miller. It was not an academic knowledge, not a knowledge for knowledge's sake, it was knowledge to serve the Australian people.
It gave Miller a somewhat unique courage and confidence in the people. Never in all the years I knew him did I hear him attempt to ram his views down other people's throats nor did he make acceptance of his Communist views a condition of his participation in mass struggle nor of his service to other people. He did not hesitate to serve other people if he could, even though they may have had anti-communist views. He realised the insidious and damaging effect of capitalist ideas. He realised that sooner or later people would turn to Communism and irrespective of their slowness or quickness, it was a Communist duty to serve the people.
In fact he played a prominent part in many mass struggles. “Boycott Japanese Goods” was a people's slogan before World War II. For publicising it in Myer's store in Bourke Street, Melbourne, he was prosecuted. For participating in mass demonstrations, he was prosecuted. I vividly recall defending him in the old Collingwood (Melbourne) Court for one such activity.
Fearlessness is a misunderstood idea. Most people are often frightened. Miller was no exception but his Marxist ideological conviction and devotion to the people overcame that.
He served the youth movement in Australia in an outstanding fashion.
A feature of Communism is that it requires participation at a very high level in people's struggle. Basically, Australia is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, hence persecution of Communists and other progressive people is never far below the surface. In Miller's case, he participated in struggle in periods of great difficulty, such, for example, as the depression of the 'thirties, the anti-war, anti-fascist pre-World War Il period, illegality of the Communist Party in 1940, the Cold War McCarthyist period which produced the anti-Communist Royal Commission in 1949-50, anti-Communist legislation in 1950, anti-working class legislation of the same period and the Petrov affair in 1954-5, the subsequent repression and then difficulties in the Communist Party. This is to name only highlights in strenuous struggle. A feature of common participation in such struggles is the production of a 'peculiarly high degree of close comradeship and solidarity among the participants. A similar thing can be seen amongst soldiers who have been in active combat together over periods of time.
Miller had acquired, with others, that peculiar sense of comradeship and solidarity from his participation in both class struggle and active combat in World War II. The latter was greatly influenced by his adherence to Communism. The root of it lies in sense of identity with the people, derived from a correct Communist outlook, tested and strengthened in actual life.
Ken Miller was a writer of great ability. He wrote in a simple and direct manner. It is a matter of great regret that we have not been able to assemble his writings. I recall a pamphlet on economic matters that plainly explained ideas that may seem to be complicated. His leaflets were outstanding. As editor of the Victorian Communist newspaper, Guardian, he maintained an ideological and political level superior to any other Communist newspaper in Australia. The Guardian was widely respected as the best of the Communist newspapers. In the process of its production, he had a habit— of talking to him- self — that produced some important contributions. I don't recommend it because it is a bit distracting. His writing was by no means limited to straight political subjects. He was a writer of short stories of no mean order. Moreover he could write political matter in a short story, attractive manner.
I recall his standing for parliament, which he did more than once. He brought along three different political manifestos about his candidature. Each approached the question in a different and appealing manner. He submitted them for choice by his collective comrades.
Like all of us, Ken Miller made personal errors. He also made ideological-political-organisational errors and participated in collective such errors. When errors of either kind were identified, he accepted his responsibility in each capacity and sought to draw appropriate lessons from them. Because over the period since the foundation of Communist Parties (in Australia 1920), there has been and still is a search for correct Party ideology-politics-organisation, errors have certainly arisen and will continue to arise. Alertness in their identification and correction is a never-ending responsibility. Nor should any individual be elevated as some sort of perfect human being or demigod. It doesn't happen. Our respect for each other necessarily involves consciousness of weaknesses in each other and in ourselves.
Because of his integrity and devotion, he attracted very great mass support in the area in which he lived in his closing years the Melbourne working class suburb of Richmond. The enemies of the people singled him out for persecution. He was framed on a false sexual charge, the girl concerned finally confessing in court that she had been told to say it was Miller. The irony of it was that at the very moment he was alleged to have committed the offence, he was in fact at a meeting doing his political duty. I have no doubt that this terrible experience shortened his life. Strong though he was, this experience haunted him.
One outstanding feature that cannot be passed over was Ken Miller's wisdom and his speaking out if he disagreed ideologically, politically or organisationally. He did not do this offensively or aggressively but gently and deferentially. It was of enormous assistance in Party leadership. In his work as a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party he made an independent and significant contribution. If others disagreed with him or he with others, it made no difference to his relations. In those days there was a certain mechanical conformity with the leadership views. Miller was less victim to this than many others. In the differences of the 'sixties, he adhered firmly to what he (and others) regarded as Marxist principle. He was assailed. In retrospect, there were errors on each side. Miller was dismissed from editorship of the Guardian. He had difficulty in getting work. He continued to devote himself to the people's struggle. He died prematurely in 1963 at the age of 50. He served the Australian people to the very end.
In difficult or comparatively less difficult times, Miller's confidence in the ultimate achievement of socialism and his confidence in the people ensured that despite seeming defeats, he never lost revolutionary optimism nor was he led astray by victory. Revolutionary integrity continued to the end.
A group of us were together on the evening before his death, which occurred without warning although he knew he had heart trouble. Although it was a period of difficulty in the Communist Party and great emotional upset, confidence in the people and Communism sustained us. His death occurred when he was actually engaged in activity that was directed towards service to the people.
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