Candidates include the
world’s first Rastafarian Parliamentarian and the
world’s first trans-sexual Parliamentarian.
And those who thought that Communism was
about as relevant today to life in the West as, say, Gary Glitter, may be
surprised to learn that there are even two Communist candidates in the
election. One of them is my younger sister
Janet, Communist League candidate for the electorate of
Maungakiekie, in south Auckland.
Every family has its black sheep.
Actually, my father was a Communist too.
Growing up in Vienna in the 1930s he became at the age of 19 Austrian
national leader of the Red Falcon underground Communist group, before being
forced to flee when the Nazis occupied the country. He arrived in New
Zealand in 1940 as a Jewish refugee, and became prominent in many left-wing
activities and in the trade union movement.
Here are two excerpts from a private
memoir that he wrote before his death in 1994, about his activities in
Every Sunday, weather
permitting, our group would go for a trip into the Vienna Woods. They were
outside the city boundaries and thus outside the jurisdiction of the police.
Gendarmes were few and far between and the Woods were always full of
underground groups, Communists, Socialists, Nazis and whatever. We had our
own regular spot, a little clearing, and first thing after arriving the food
was collected from those who could afford to bring some (many couldn’t) and
handed to the fatigue party for equal distribution at meal hours. Mornings
were usually taken up with political study, lectures and discussion.
Afternoons were devoted to sports and games…. In the evening we sang and at
the end of the day we had a regular break-up ceremony when the whole group
stood in a circle and sang the Internationale, all three verses, finishing
with a shouted Rotfront that would have raised any roof. Then we marched
back in orderly ranks, still singing our fighting songs, “Die Arbeiter von
Wien” or “Roter Fliegermarsch”. As we marched singing towards the town,
people on all sides would cheer us and in the semi-darkness many joined our
ranks and joined our singing. We usually dispersed at the train terminus but
sometimes, forgetting caution, we would go on marching and singing right
into the suburbs.
Although I never again
worked for the GRSV [United Red Students’ League], I knew its members and
they usually gave me advance notice of their “actions” so that I could clear
my house of incriminating material in case the police made random arrests.
They had teams of chemical and technical students developing ideas and
manufacturing mechanical devices, and their “actions” were usually of a high
standard. I was present when the famous German physicist Nernst spoke at our
Institute and a shower of leaflets denouncing Nazism descended on the
audience. They fell out of a gadget with a time-mechanism which had been
fitted to the banister of the balcony seats. Another favourite device was to
write slogans with fluoric acid on glass windows. They generally remained
visible for a long time, but when “Long Live the Soviet Union” appeared on
the huge glass door of our Institute on 7 November 1937 the doors were
boarded up. Another time a red flag unrolled slowly during one of the
compulsory lectures on Catholic Doctrine of the State, which all students
had to attend. It had been rolled up in the neon lighting tube above the
blackboard and the time-mechanism consisted of an acid which slowly corroded
the supporting string. The professor called in the policeman who always
stood guard outside this lecture, to remove the flag. This he did, but as he
was not supposed to leave, he then stood outside until the end of the
lecture with a red flag in his hand, much to the amusement of students who
After my father died,
Prime Minister Helen Clark (then opposition leader) described him as a
“remarkable man….His commitment to economic and social justice, and to
peace, was a shining example for all of us”. You can read more about him at
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (enter “Herbert Roth” in the search
engine). And I have
a chapter in my book about our sometimes strained relations.
My mother? She was for
many years active in the New Zealand feminist movement, before moving to a
retirement village near us here in Melbourne three years ago. On her study
wall is a plaque naming her as the first honorary life member of the
Women’s Studies Association, for her contributions to feminism. She
turns 81 this Sunday, and when she’s not surfing the net she continues to
write columns for feminist publications in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, I’m a pro-American,
The black sheep of the family? Yep, it’s