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Ted Bull

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Part One: (from Vanguard 28 January 1998)
Big crowd mourns Ted Bull

A crowd of 700 packed into Trades Hall in Melbourne on 22 December to attend a memorial meeting for legendary unionist and Communist A.E. (Ted) Bull.
Ted Bull died in Melbourne on 11 December 1997, aged 83, after a short illness.
The memorial meeting in the Trades Hall Council Chamber was chaired by Lew Hillier, a retired vigilance officer (organiser) with the Waterside Workers’ Federation.
Speakers at the meeting were Ted’s son, Lindsay Bull; Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) national organiser, Jim Tannock; long-time community activist, Australia-Cuba Friendship Society president and former MP, Joan Coxsedge; well-known Aboriginal activist, Gary Foley; Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Victorian President John Cummins; and Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) representative Marcus Clayton.
There were also a number of contributions from the floor.
A striking feature of the memorial meeting was the great range of people attending. There were men and women from young activists to those in their 80s. Of course, there were many wharfies, painters and dockers, construction workers and many other workers and union officials. But there were also many attending from other walks of life, for example, members of parliament, lawyers, doctors, other health workers and other professionals. Participants in a huge range of workers’ amd community struggles were present.
The main note struck at the meeting was the importance of celebrating the life and work of a working class leader who devoted his whole lifetime to serving the people. The Council Chamber was decorated with the old banners of the Waterside Workers’ Federation and the Painters and Dockers, both of which are now part of the MUA. There was a poster-size enlarged photo of Ted addressing a rally from the back of a truck in characteristically inspiring style.
Lew Hillier opened the meeting with some details of Ted’s life and some personal reflections upon the man whom Lew first saw speak more than 60 years ago and alongside whom Lew had worked on the wharves for over 25 years.
Ted’s son Lindsay, who bears a striking resemblance to his father, delivered an inspiring speech which was also reminiscent of Ted’s great working class oratory. Lindsay spoke of the values Ted had lived by and had sought to instil in his children.
MUA organiser Jim Tannock said that the union would honour Ted’s memory by defeating the present attacks on maritime workers being co-ordinated by the Federal government. Joan Coxsedge spoke of Ted’s great capacity to inspire others and his love of Cuba which he visited only in recent years. Gary Foley spoke of the respect he and other Aboriginal leaders felt for Ted and recalled that Ted well understood the key issues facing Aboriginal people. John Cummins spoke of Ted’s involvement in workers’ struggles and his support for construction workers, particularly during the Builders Labourers’ Federation struggle of the 1980s/90s. Marcus Clayton spoke about Ted’s commitment to revolutionary politics (see speech in Part Two below).
The many who made contributions from the floor included Leigh Hubbard, secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council; terry Russell, Victorian Secretary of the MUA; a representative of the Save Albert Park Group in which Ted was involved; a young activist who said Ted had inspired her to join the revolutionary movement; Victorian Supreme Court Judge Frank Vincent whose father was a wharfie; an activist from the anti-freeway struggle which Ted had been involved in for many years  in his local area; and Betty Little, Victorian President of the Australia-China Friendship Society who talked about Ted’s ardent support for People’s China. The Chinese government’s Cultural Consul in Melbourne was present as were a number of representatives of Chinese community organisations in Victoria.
The meeting concluded with the playing of two songs of the great American singer and communist Paul Robeson, one of Ted’s favourite artists: “Old Man River” and “The Ballad of Joe Hill”.
The memorial meeting did not seek to canonise Ted Bull which would have been the last thing he would have wanted. Contrary to the teachings of capitalist ideology, history is not a record of the doings and misdoings of prominent individuals, but rather a record of class struggles impelled by economic and social conditions. All individuals are the product of the society and times into which they are born and the experience and knowledge they accumulate.   Ted Bull was a special product of the Australian working class and the Great Depression of the 1930s together with a lifetime of membership of the Communist Party, a lifetime of striving to use Marxism to understand and change the world while participating in struggle.
Many who attended the memorial meeting said that the tributes paid to Ted Bull were an inspiration to maintain the struggle against injustice and for a better world. Or, as American unionist Joe Hill telegraphed to his old friend Bill Haywood on his last day before being executed: “Goodbye, Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organise.”              
Part Two: (from Vanguard 28 January 1998)
A life devoted to serving the people
(Reproduced here is Marcus Clayton’s speech to the memorial meeting for Ted Bull).
“A giant tree has fallen in the forest. It will enrich the soil, providing nutrients for the trees and saplings left standing.”
These were Ted Bull’s opening words at a gathering like this in 1988 when his lifelong comrade Ted Hill died.
What better way to mark the passing of the giant tree, the towering figure, of Ted Bull.
Ted joined the Communist Party more than 60 years ago. He was a founding member of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1964. When he breathed his last breath on 11 December, Ted did so as a committed Communist.
A Russian author, Ostrowsky, wrote a passage which sets a test for revolutionaries. It goes like this:
“Man’s dearest possession is life. And since it is given to him to live but once, he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for years spent without purpose, so live as not to be seared with shame of a cowardly or trivial past, so live that dying, he can say ‘All my life and all my strength were given to the finest cause in the world – the liberation of mankind’.”
Ted Bull not only passed the test. He was top of the class.
Ted Bull was an embodiment of Marxism. If we take any of the main ideas of Communism, Ted gave then flesh and blood.
The famous Communist Manifesto begins by declaring that history amounts to the history of class struggles. Class struggle was Ted Bull’s lifeblood. He vigorously took part in every major struggle of the Australian people from the 1930s until today; from the struggle against unemployment in the Great Depression to the trade union battles of the 1990s.
Ted exuded optimism from every pore – optimism that the great majority of the people will triumph over the few rich exploiters in the end. The basis of that optimism was that capitalism cannot solve the basic contradictions between on the one hand, big business ownership of the giant factories, mines and farms which turn out more and more commodities and, on the other, the limited capacity of the people to buy the commodities because of low wages and unemployment. Everywhere Ted went, every struggle he was involved in, he spread enthusiasm and energy. His eyes shone wit complete confidence in the people’s cause.
Ted Bull burnt with hatred of oppression and exploitation. He hated the state forces who maintain the capitalist system. At speeches at picket lines and demonstrations he would often rail against and ridicule the police force, drawing attention to its role of upholding the status quo.
Ted Bull was one of the really great sons of the Australian working class. The working class leads the struggle for Australian independence and socialism. The giant corporations derive their profits from the workers’ labour. Modern large-scale production dictates that the Australian working class is the most numerous class, the most disciplined, cohesive and politically conscious class.  Ted exhibited true qualities of that class – courage, humour, determination, incorruptibility, trustworthiness, decisiveness. Workers universally recognised and loved Ted as one of their own.
Ted Bull fought for militant unionism and fought against tame-cat, yellow union leaders who preach that the boss is the workers’ friend. But at the same time Ted strove to inject the revolutionary goal of ending exploitation altogether. Addressing stop work meetings on the waterfront he would point out that the shipowners’ giant vessels were worth millions upon millions and that every cent came from the workers’ sweat, but that wharfies didn’t own a single rivet. Ted Bull probably recruited more people to the Communist Party than anyone in the Party’s77 year history in Australia.
Ted was scathing about the parliamentary talking shop which covers up the ruthless rule, the dictatorship of the giant foreign and local corporations. He was scathing about the top Labor Party leaders who claim to represent the workers and even talk about socialism but meekly serve big business when in office.
In everything Ted did, he showed that communism is not a lifeless dogma but a guide to action. Ted Bull was above all a man of action. Right up to his old age he was always in the front line, putting his body in against the bosses and the coppers. He led by example.
Ted was both a nationalist and an internationalist. He was passionately devoted to overthrowing the giant foreign multinationals to win Australian independence as the first step towards Australian socialism. At the same time, he rejoiced in struggles and victories overseas. He was an ardent supporter of People’s China and Cuba.
Ted Bull was utterly uncompromising on principle. But he struggled alongside and was respected and loved by people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all ages. So long as someone was fair dinkum and prepared to have a go, Ted would embrace them.
Ted believed that of all things, people are the most precious. It is the people in their millions, not just a few Communists, who will change Australia and the world. Ted Bull loved people and loved the Australian people. Everyone who met him could see it – his warmth, his concern for others, his attention to the little things, his joy in meeting old friends or new activists. He particularly treasured young people whom he recognised are the future of the struggle and the country.
Everything in nature and in society is in a process of coming into being and passing away. When you asked Ted how he was, he always replied – never been fitter, and he would say they’ll have to nail down the lid on the coffin because I’ll be fighting to get out! But in the end, all of us must die. However, the experiences we go through, the lessons we learn, are not lost – they are passed on to our kids, to our workmates, to those we have stood next to in struggle. Like the trees and saplings left standing which Ted spoke of, those who are left carry on the struggle.
More than anything else, ted Bull was an inspirer. He inspired in people the conviction that they could fight and they could win. He devoted his whole life to serving the people. All those who are fighting against oppression, exploitation and injustice can take courage and learn from the example of Ted Bull.
Ted’s own inspiration came from his class and his revolutionary outlook. He had a vision of an Australia in which the people own the big factories, mines and agribusiness farms and production is to meet people’s needs, not to maximise the profits of the rich. An Australia from which poverty and insecurity have been banished and Australians enjoy improving living standards, decent health care and education, where young people have a bright future and older people are looked after. An Australia in which the great talents and ingenuity of the people are unleashed and developed to their full potential.
Ted Bull is gone. The struggle lives on. Those of us who share his vision pledge ourselves to redouble our efforts to bring that struggle to even greater heights.
Part Three: (from Vanguard 22 April 1998)
Legendary union leader and communist Ted Bull died in December 1997.
The meeting commemorating his life was an extraordinary outpouring of love and appreciation for this outstanding man of principle.
It is important to think over the reasons.
Ted Bull embraced the ideas of revolutionary change in the late years of the 1929 Depression and in the years of the Second World War.
It was in those years of emergence of the Socialist Soviet Union and the world-wide interest in socialism that Bull’s ideas were finally crystallised, and after the war he soon became a trade union leader within the ranks of the Communist Party.
His elevation within the Communist Party was not the outcome of his position in the Waterside Workers’ Federation, although of course as an important leader of thousands of key workers he was well-fitted to bring to Communist Party deliberations a keen appreciation of the needs and outlook of workers. In turn he was splendidly placed to set out to win a better understanding of communist philosophy and practice amongst these workers.
Bull’s advancement in communist circles came about above all else from his devotion to the idea of revolutionary change in which the workers and their allies would become the leading class in society and his determination to master the science of Marxism which could provide leadership to effect that revolutionary change.
Many trade union leaders joined the Communist Party. Many rose to leading positions within that party. A very small number indeed accepted the essential need to master the general laws of social development and to combine their primary practical work with a study of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.
Bull was one of that small band.
Many inner-party struggles covering important matters of Marxist policy have taken place in the years since the Communist Party was established in Australia. In each of those which occurred during his years of membership, Bull insisted on the need to examine the facts and to sum up experience, practice:

• Debate about the possibility of a peaceful road to socialism.
• The definition of the hostile contradiction between the workers and the bosses as a result of the fundamental exploitation and working s of capitalism.
• The illusion of parliament as an expression of democracy.
• The designation of the Labor Party as a party of the capitalist class and not as a “two-class” party.
• The need to fight the ideology of trade unionism as distinct from the need for workers to join in the trade unions in the fight for better wages and conditions.
All these and many more questions required solutions for the communists to find the correct way forward to socialism in Australia.
It is now a matter of history that irreconcilable differences on these matters caused a complete break in the Australian communist movement in the ‘60s. Most communist trade union leaders at that time opted to remain with those who sought to rob the organisation of its revolutionary objective, preaching an accommodation with imperialism, preaching that socialism could be won through parliament. The grounds were set for the policies of accord and consensus with the bosses which by the ‘80s were robbing the workers and their unions of the ability to struggle.
Bull was one of a small number of trade union leaders who repudiated such revisionism and took a leading part in establishing the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) in March 1964.
He was always striving for a correct balance between the struggle for immediate reforms and the struggle for a fundamental change in the economic and political system. In order to find the correct way forward he accepted the need to understand capitalism’s laws and the essence of profit making. He studied endlessly the theories of Marxism. Lenin’s classic work ‘Left-Wing’ Communism -  An Infantile Disorder was a particular favourite. It dealt exhaustively with the correct way to work among the workers and in the unions.
The trade unions arose out of the need of workers for an organisation to unite and lead them in the day to day battles against the employers for a better share of the value they create in the production of commodities. They are the most important workers’ organisations, essential to protect and defend the workers. By their nature, they are not equipped for the essential task of changing the system. Their members, whilst sharing a common aim of fighting for wages and conditions, are also divided on many other matters, religion, political outlooks and so on. They express both the need to fight the boss yet they are also a fertile field for the bosses’ ideas that the system of capitalism cannot be changed and at best it can be reformed. Within their ranks are both the better paid workers whom the bosses consciously set out to bribe, as well as lower paid workers.
All these facts provide an objective base for the bosses’ ideology of trade unionism, in other words, a philosophy which accepts the permanency of the capitalist system.
Trade unionism gives rise to many negative factors – job-seeking within the unions, manoeuvring and factionalism to remove real or imagined rivals, deal-making, in-fighting, all of which inevitably lose sight of the workers’ interests as being the reason for the unions’ existence and in the final analysis serves the interests of the boss.
This is not to accept that all who accept the task of leadership in the union will inevitably or universally fall prey to reformism and opportunism.
There are many who fight against the negative factors, who strive to imbue the workers with a revolutionary outlook.
But it is to suggest that there is great need to distinguish between the need to build fighting unions and the danger of succumbing to the capitalist class ideas which circulate daily within them.
Ted Bull spent his whole union life endeavouring to fight this battle – to preserve his integrity. Attempts were made to corrupt him – both overtly and covertly. All failed.
After retiring from active leadership within the union movement, he involved himself with every struggle of the people against attacks by imperialism.
Bull hated imperialism in general, but he reserved special hatred for the foreign imperialists who were gaining a hold over more and more of Australia.
It is sometimes said that a revolutionary cannot be both a patriot as well as an internationalist.
It was a theory vigorously rejected by Ted Bull. He put that question differently, declaring that only a true internationalist, only a thorough-going revolutionary can, from deep within the working class, successfully win the battle for national independence.  This is the true patriotism. He never ceased to repeat the May Day call “Workers of the world unite”.
Ted Bull was revered not only for his unceasing devotion to the needs of the working class. The breadth of representation at his memorial illustrated beyond doubt the position he occupied among all those who strive for Australia’s independence and sovereignty. He was truly a tribune of the people.
Further reading:
Nine stone six wringing wet – an interview with Ted Bull on his retirement from the WWF
The People can never be repressed – defeat new penal powers (1977 statement by Hill, Bull, Gallagher, O’Shea)
Listen to Ted Bull interviewed by Barry York 


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