VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism •


Basil Steffanou – A Comrade Who Served the People

From Vanguard December 2, 1987)

Commemorative meeting for Basil Steffanou

A commemorative meeting for Basil Steffanou was held at the Democritus League, Melbourne on November 22.

It was a diverse gathering of people of all age groups and differing ethnic backgrounds.

Many had worked with him in varying sectors of the Victorian fishing industry for 35 years or more.

As the chairman of the meeting Mr George Nicolau said, “It was fitting the meeting be held at the Democritus league Hall as Basil Steffanou had been one of its foundation members 50 years ago”.

Many people of Greek origin remembered with respect his contribution to many causes. Young Australians of Greek parentage mentioned the great assistance he had given them in seeking to understand the underlying factors in Australian and world society.

Veteran Communist and ex-Waterside Workers’ leader, Ted Bull, read the funeral oration which had been given by Ted Hill, ex-Chairman of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) 10 days earlier when Basil Steffanou was cremated. 

University lecturer, M. Sophocles paid tribute to the unique contribution of Basil Steffanou in striving to resolve the problems associated with the development of an Australian multicultural society.
The following is the oration given at the funeral of Basil Steffanou by Ted Hill, retired chairman of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), on November 12, 1987.

Basil Steffanou lived in noble service to the people and the people in turn, served and nurtured him.

Born of Greek parents in the Greek island Kastellorizon, he came to Australia from Egypt 60 years ago.

When he arrived, Australian white settlement, based on seizure from the real black owners, had been consolidated.

In the struggle to free the people from oppression, Basil Steffanou played a part no doubt more sensitive to the black people’s plight just because of racial prejudice promoted by ruling circles against back people and migrants. Like many from other lands, Basil Steffanou had the unique advantage of speaking several languages, rather than only the English imposed by Britain on colonies. He was proficient in Greek, Italian and English and had good knowledge of still others. That helped and helps the Australian community composed as it is of people from many countries.

Basil Steffanou identified himself with Australia. He was an Australian in the true sense of the term. He condemned the original seizure from the black people but he served the cause of Australia’s independence for all Australians whatever their origin or skin colour. That meant the struggle for Australian working and other progressive people to establish their own control of Australia rather than see it controlled by multinational monopolies and imperialists from Britain, the US or Japan.

Many progressive causes attracted him. Those causes included struggles for improved wages and living conditions, defence of the natural environment from ruination by profiteers, struggles for peace and democratic rights.

He maintained a particular connection with those Australians of Greek origin. Greatly respected among Australian people of Greek origin, his contribution to their settling down in Australia as Australian citizens was enormous. Far from confining his activity there, he served in struggles of all Australians and his particular contribution to Greek origin Australians, knew no bounds. He acted as interpreter, letter writer, assisted in finding ways through the bureaucracy, housing and wages, acted in ways too numerous to describe. His was a name widely known and respected. It is fair to say that no demand was ever made of him which, if able to fulfil, he declined. Many of us can readily affirm this from personal experience.

He actively participated in the particular events of his time. Nothing ever passed him by. Alert to every move by the enemies of the people and every counter-struggle of the people, he acted appropriately. Active, very active, was he in the struggle against war and fascism in the ‘thirties.

The rise of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito and their collaborators and sympathisers in other countries, which included Australia, saw him on the side of the people. “Boycott Japanese goods” rang round Australia as the Japanese militarists prepared for aggression. Basil shouted it, posted it up in posters and slogans, participated in meetings and pickets – every form of activity. In the current world threats to peace, we can learn much from this activity. In the early phoney months of World War II, repression of the people deepened. Basil was an active participant in resisting repression. In the anti-fascist period of World War II, he was among the most active of activists against fascism.

In mid-1941, the world’s people mobilised in full against Hitler and Co. He resisted the 1946 and years following Cold War of McCarthyism, the Menzies’ reaction, the 1949-50 anti-Communist Commission in Victoria, the Communist Party Dissolution Act and the September 22, 1951 people’s referendum victory over the reactionary anti-democratic Menzies’ proposals. Communism, the enemies were certainly concerned about, but they used it as an umbrella under which to attack all the people’s rights. We recall very well his mighty efforts in united struggle and our friend Steffanou’s joy in victory. In defeats, he maintained courage and principle. Not a man to rest of the laurels of victory, nor despair in defeat, he plunged into many other struggles and at all times, upheld progressive causes. 

In the fishing industry in which he worked, again he had a notable place. Known far and wide, he participated in the organisation and struggles of the working fishermen. Once more, wherever there are fishermen, his name was known and his advice sought.

Basil Steffanou was a very deep thinker and a close student of philosophy. He embraced the world outlook of materialist dialectics. Enthusiastically he grasped the essence of what Marx meant when in the middle of the last century, he said hitherto the philosophers have only explained the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it. This called Basil and others like him to action. In whatever field he worked, he tried to apply this concept. His sometimes seeming slowness simply meant he was searching for truth but his feet were firmly planted among the common people. This very philosophy showed him the need to refrain from attempting to impose his views on others. Rather, he listened and reasoned, learned and taught. It enabled him, for example, to work in religious circles and respect people who held religious views while for himself he rejected those views. For this, he was respected. This tolerance is how it should be. We Communists understand that people have varying outlooks, but however varying those outlooks, humanity other than a tiny minority, has the common aim of its own liberation.

Basil Steffanou died in the month of November. November marked the anniversary of the socialist victory of the Soviet people. That well demonstrated the truth of the principles Basil held dear. Not dismayed by the departures by some Soviet leaders from socialism, he maintained confidence in socialism’s ultimate victory. He warmly hailed China’s liberation in 1949 and actively promoted within China and within Australia, friendship between the Australian and Chinese peoples. Independence for Australia was close to his heart and explained many of his actions.

We live and we die. Life and death are interdependent. Death comes as a shock to those near and dear to one who dies and we extend our sympathy and support to those immediately effected. His wife and daughter shared his life, views and struggle. Shock and distress are tempered by the realisation that such a person has striven all his life to work with ordinary folk in their ordinary causes and for their more lofty aims. There is a way of putting it – grief should be turned to strength for he himself would want to see us devote all our energies to the cause of the people.