Esmonde Higgins was increasingly unsettled by his experiences as a revolutionary intellectual. Coinciding with a series of personal crises, they led to his disengagement from Communism, but also to a search for a new language for the workers’ movement. This is a revised version of an article with this title that appeared in Labour History, 87, November 2004, 83-102.

Defecting: Esmonde Higgins Leaves the Communist Party*

Esmonde Higgins joined the Communist Party in Britain in 1920; he joined the Labor Party in Australia in 1944. Between those two dates he searched for a political practice that was revolutionary and liberal, activist and intellectual. His defection from Communism was inevitable once it became institutionalised and dogmatic, which is to say almost from the moment of his joining. This article follows the process of his defection, from doubt to disenchantment to apostasy. It concentrates on his experience of crises in his political practice expressed particularly through his personal relations with his comrades and his role as an intellectual. It suggests that Higgins avoided the rancour often found in Cold War ex-communists by dedicating himself to finding a new language for the workers' movement, and to constructing workers' education as a site where intellectuals and activists could be brought together. E.P. Thompson's distinction between disenchantment and apostasy is drawn upon to clarify this suggestion.

* * *

In the 1950s it was sometimes said that ex-communists made up the largest political party in Australia. 1 Like Oriel Gray and John Hepworth in 1949, many members had slipped away from the Communist Party without being noticed by either the public or the party bosses in Marx House.2 Others had hoped that defection would be a career-building move. A literature emerged in which former party members wrote about their disillusionment with communism, usually organising their story around the crises arising from the treacherous course of Soviet politics and foreign policy. In Australia, the most notorious example was Cecil Sharpley's 1952 book, The Great Delusion? 3 It was a literature that was more successful in recreating the atmosphere of the Cold War than the culture of the communist movement; and the writers were more interested in contributing to the mainstream public discourse of anti-communism than in exploring the deep private springs of their defection. There were some exceptions, notably the contributors to Richard Crossman's edited book of 1950, The God That Failed - Six Studies in Communism. Crossman concluded that none of his contributors ‘deserted Communism willingly or with a clear conscience. Not one would have hesitated to return ... if the Party had shown a gleam of understanding of his belief in human freedom and human dignity.’4

Esmonde Higgins was the kind of ex-Communist Crossman was writing about, in part because his joining the party never quite extinguished the liberal attitudes of his pre-Communist youth. He grew up in the milieu of pre-war Melburnian radical nationalism, mentored by his sister Nettie and her husband Vance Palmer, through whom he discovered the Victorian Socialist Party and the Free Religious Fellowship.5 In a lengthy series of letters to Nettie he explained his reasons in 1920 for joining the Communist Party in Britain, where he was a student at Oxford. It was not Marxist theory, or even the overthrow of capitalism, that was decisive, but the romance of revolution, or rather the experience of sharing a 'public' life, through the Communist party, with workers whose real lives were alien to him. In this proletarian public sphere Higgins imagined that he could fashion his own political practice, which allowed for feeling as well as reason in determining action, for friendship as the basis for action, and for the appreciation of beauty as a form of working-class empowerment.6

It took ten years, 1934 to 1944, for Higgins to ease himself out of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). He had returned to Australia in 1924, and quickly became an important leader of the Australian party as a member of its Central Executive between 1927 and 1929. Then he fell from power, a loser in the factional struggles that resulted in the Stalinisation of the party in 1930. Communism in Australia was a tiny force in the 1920s so Higgins in those years was not a major industrial or public figure, unlike the Stalinists who took over the CPA and, in time, many of the most powerful trade unions in the country.7 However, another aspect of his life raises his significance, especially in the light of Crossman's point. Like the six deserters Crosssman studied, Higgins was an intellectual. I mean this not as a statement of his cognitive talents (which were impressive) but as a definition of his role in politics. It is this role, more precisely his attempts to find a satisfactory socialist intellectual practice, that explains his tortuous path out of the Communist party, not the weakness or deceit perceived by one of his erstwhile comrades.8

As an intellectual, Higgins frequently reflected on his political identity and career. His habitual subjectivity is on display in his notes and extensive correspondence with his sister, Nettie Palmer, and important intellectuals in the British and Australian Communist movements. He also had a successful post-Communist career as an educator and radio commentator on international events, so if space were available it would be possible to evaluate how defection altered the way he intervened in public debate. In this article the focus is on the process of defection. His defection was prolonged, and the very length of the process allowed many of its elements - especially the subjective ones - to present themselves clearly for analysis.

It is instructive to consider briefly other accounts of Higgins' defection. When he died in 1960 his long time associate and immediate superior in the Tutorial Classes Department of the University of Sydney, Lascelles Wilson, skated diplomatically over his years as a Communist, in one obituary dating his break with the party to 1930-31 and in a second to after 1936.9 Later accounts have settled for the late thirties. Michael Roe in the Australian Dictionary of Biography noted that he retained his ties with the party after he married in 1935 but that he became increasingly alienated from Stalinism, while Stephen Holt wrote that in the mid-thirties 'the pressure of world events' produced a slow but irreversible transformation in Higgins' political outlook.10 At the time, however, the transformation was not obvious to the Security Service. Higgins' file contains an entry about him, written at the end of 1942, which states:

He allegedly resigned from the Communist party, so he says, in 1935, so that he would be in a much better position to attend to certain branches of the work in which he proposed to interest himself. It is suspected that such supposed resignation was a case of 'drawing a herring across the trail'. On the contrary, it was considered that he was an 'under cover' man for the Party, and a most active worker.11

Even allowing for the notorious capacity of security services to leap to conclusions about membership of subversive organisations, what would have prompted the leap in this case if the process of alienation and defection from Stalinism had been going on since 1935?

Higgins himself wrote a retrospective account of his defection but it too raises as many questions as it answers. In 1944 Hig, as he was known to his friends, received a letter from Arthur Serner, a comrade from his period in Britain in the early twenties. They had lost touch, but Arthur, meeting Hig's niece, Aileen Palmer, in London Communist circles, now wanted to share his memories of their 'good times' in the early days of the movement. He wrote warmly of their walking tour in Dorset, and of their comrades, Raji Dutt, Clemens Dutt (now married to Violet Lansbury), Robin Page Arnot, and A.L. Bacharach - 'no longer one of us but still friendly'.12 He clearly assumed, as no doubt Aileen did, that Hig was either a member of, or still friendly with, the CPA, whereas, a few months earlier, after some public slanging with local Communists, Higgins had announced his membership of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Hig put the letter aside.

Seven years later he decided to reply. It was a tough letter but it avoided embarrassing or rejecting Serner. It began by explaining that he had needed time before replying in order to overcome the 'Father Complex' he developed with the comrades he worked with in the early twenties. While acknowledging that there was a 'millennial mood' in those years, Higgins insisted there was no excuse for the way 'we pinned all our hopes and principles on a revolution that had taken shape in Russia'. And he rejected completely the 'political fraud' and 'strong-arm methods' of his former comrades. In 1935, he wrote,

after fifteen years absorption in the Party, I reneged, and I've gone on reneging until I've come actively to dislike all that the CP stands for. If I must have a label, I'm a sort of Fabian with an over-attachment to democratic methods.

Then he listed the events that had led him to 'renege': the methods of the Comintern representative in Australia in 1930-33, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and the take-over of Czechoslovakia in 1949. Nonetheless, he asked to be remembered to his mentor Harry Pollitt, the former boilermaker who rose to be British Communism's most charismatic leader. The letter ended on this friendly note, with domestic news of Hig's children, responding to similar information from Serner.13 In fact, the following year, while on sabbatical leave, Hig visited Serner in London.

The letter has a striking mixture of tone - confessional, declaratory, and entreating. It also has the curious structure of omissions and inclusions of a retrospective account. Thus, Higgins condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact but failed to mention that he published and broadcast defences of it at the time, and, when the Soviet Union became an ally, that he was prominent in the 'Aid to Russia' movement. He condemned likewise the impact of the Comintern agent in 1930-33 but gave no reason why his renegacy was deferred to 1935. Did something happen in 1935? And, later, in 1943, surely his public falling out with the CPA had to be precipitated by an event of consequence to Hig's political identity, but it too rated no mention in the letter. Could it be that his omissions had a lot to do with feeling uncomfortable about the contradictions and strains of his political identity in those years? The inclusions that describe his renegacy on the other hand have an 'off-the-shelf’ feel - they are the dutiful markers of anti-communist discourse: Comintern agents and Soviet perfidy.

The complexity of his retrospective feelings about his departure from the Communist Party, and the vagueness of his historical recollections, suggest that defection needs to be examined at different levels. There is, of course, a context for defection, and an analysis to be made of the 'pressure of world events', but just as important is the study of the subjective dimension through which individuals give meaning to world events. This is very relevant in the case of Higgins, who had an almost hyper-sensitivity to the process of interrogating experience and projecting his personal future. James R. Barrett, in his discussion of 'revolution and personal crisis' in the life of the United States Communist leader, William Z. Foster, asks us not only to explain the personal experience of revolutionaries by reference to their social context but to place political life in the context of ‘human experience and personal development'.14 Arguably this holds good for revolutionaries defecting from Communism as well as those making a commitment to it.

In accounting for the human experience of defection there are two further distinctions to be made. First, there is obviously a difference in their effects between a catastrophic and often public break with Communism and a slow, often zig zagging process of disengagement. The former invariably results in apostasy; the latter can produce either cumulative rancour leading to eventual apostasy or, in some lucky individuals, an experience of growth and creativity. Here I draw on E.P. Thompson's essay, 'Disenchantment or Default'. Apostasy he describes as 'the immoderate reverse of attachments' as the defector relapses into 'received patterns of thought and feeling', accompanied by a bitter psychological state of vengefulness, denial of personal responsibility, and unhealthy egotism. On the other hand, a disengagement that confronts the tension between abstract beliefs about human perfectibility and progress with the reality of intractable situations and imperfect individuals can provide an experience of disenchantment, releasing creativity and building self- knowledge.15

Second, recalling the way Michael Roe brought together Hig's marriage in 1935 and his increasing alienation from Stalinism, it is clear that disengagement is a series of crises of different kinds. It can appear as a crisis in the defector's ties with comrades, in the defector's understanding of their intellectual role, and in their integration of private life and political activism. A useful way to understand these multiple meanings is in terms of life-spheres. In the literature on social movements the problem of defection rarely arises, if only because movements are by definition looser in organisation than other political formations, especially Communist parties. However, a recent study by Florence Passy and Marco Guigni of political commitment argues that political disengagement occurs when activists disconnect their central life spheres (for example, work, family, and politics) from the movement. They lose thereby a sense of having an integrated personal life, become less embedded in social networks, and begin to reassess their preferences in ways that increasingly estrange them from activism.16

The story that follows of Higgins's defection is organised according to the typology of forms of disengagement suggested by Thompson's essay, from doubt to disenchantment, and then to the question of whether he can be considered an apostate. Cutting across these divisions is the process of disengagement identified by Passy and Guigni, the story of the increasing distance that occurred in his relationship with the Communist movement as he confronted a series of crises in his political, professional and personal life.


In August 1924, an intelligence officer reported that the reason for Higgins' recent return to Australia was that he was 'on an important Communist mission'.17 The truth was he was homesick and guilty about failing to do his share of looking after his sick father. Moreover, before he left full-time work in the British Communist Party prominent members had advised him that he was wasting his revolutionary energies returning to Australia.18 Up to a point, he agreed, as a note he made on the way back revealed. Under the heading, 'Moralising while on S.S. Baradine', he admitted that the 'revn in Aust bound to be later than anywhere else', but it was still necessary to build up the party in readiness. The fact that Australian capitalism could still make concessions to the labour movement also meant that Communists ran the risk of alienating the working class by trying to 'put the class position' forward in every campaign. In time the issue of how to communicate the revolutionary position would become a preoccupation for Higgins, but in 1924 it attracted only a glance as he prepared to resume an active party life in Sydney He noted what he had learnt about writing, lecturing, training and organising in the British party, listed his virtues, and also his vices: ‘like luxury, nb fags, bed, booze; bookish and opinionated; ignorant and lazy; technically untrained'.19 He omitted that he had studied at the universities of Melbourne and Oxford. Communists, he knew, had to argue like Jesuits, but the values and methods of a liberal education would become another complication in the role he found himself playing in the tiny Australian Communist party.20 For the moment his main fear was his personal unworthiness.

The Communist party in Sydney were hoping to slip Higgins into the Labor Council's Labour Research and Information Bureau (LRIB), but as the money set aside for it had been diverted to the Labor Daily, unions wanting research and information would have to affiliate separately to the Bureau.21 Many union leaders could not see the point of the 'class struggle' information the Bureau was offering - about the structure of ownership, and the anti-capitalist role of the labour movement. Consequently when Higgins took the job as its Director his first task was to make fund-raising speeches at meetings of suspicious union executives. At the same time his experience on Communist periodicals in Britain inevitably drew him towards the Workers' Weekly, whose editor he became in November.22 He also assisted Jack Howie reorganise Communist trade union work in Sydney The party had a spartan hall in Sussex Street, where Hig spent much of his time at meetings of the Sydney group and increasingly of the party's inner circle. On Saturday nights a fund-raising dance was a regular fixture, for which Higgins, although not musical himself, had the responsibility of forming the Communist Band. In whatever time he had left over, his comrades leant on him to lecture regularly on industrial strategy, to carry instructions from the executive to wayward country branches, and, although he had no children, to set up a children's movement to teach revolutionary songs, physical culture, dancing, and (for the boys) boxing .23 Yet, despite all the busyness his 'embeddedness' in the party was insecure. He liked to imagine himself still in London, so he wrote regularly to his British comrades in the first year of his return, especially to Harry Pollitt, whom he called his 'father confessor' or uncle.

‘I can't hit it [off] with the blokes', he confessed in 1926, perhaps recalling his criticism of the standard of writing in the Workers' Weekly.24 It was not just that the party was small and factionalised, 'a handful of derelicts' marooned far away from the struggle, but that he could find no role in which to display his intellectual talents. In capitals he complained to his British comrades that in three months at the LRIB he had 'DONE NO ACTUAL RESEARCH', and his only writing had been 'for the edification of those who know'.25 By March of 1925 he was letting 'work pile up at the Bureau and refusing to take on various pieces of futile Party work'. He filled up his time with 'frivolity', going to Music Halls and learning new dance steps. He had an affair with a married woman, earning Harry Pollitt's disapproval because it was distracting him from his duty. Moreover, he was in debt, and living in wretched accommodation. The crises in his affective ties with his comrades and in his identity as a Communist intellectual could no longer be ignored. To Harry Pollitt he said he needed time to think. Harry said he had been 'kidded' by his new relationship with Joy Barrington - 'the kid' - who was ten years younger than Higgins.26 To the party he explained that unless he could pay off his debt he would be no use to the revolution. He resigned his positions and, with Joy in tow, went travelling in August 1925.27

Late in 1925 he was teaching in the Mallee, and in the first half of 1926 in Perth. There had been no slackening in his attachment to Communism, and no lapse in his party membership. This 'scandalous fact', Russel Ward recalled, Higgins admitted when he was hired by Ward's father for a teaching post at Wesley Boys' College in South Perth.28 By August 1926 he and Joy were back in Sydney, still in debt and dismayed by the party's sectarian line, which was to avoid contamination by associating with Labor militants. Despite telling Harry that he was in 'a personal and spiritual muddle', there was no hesitation about their response. Perhaps it was because he and Joy were a couple. They took factory jobs by day and carried out Party work at night.29 At the annual conference in December Higgins was elected to the Central Executive with the second highest vote.30

Higgins was now in a position to amplify his role as a Communist intellectual. He resumed the editorship of the Workers' Weekly, and, crucially, took charge of the Agit-Prop Department of the party.31 He held these posts for the next three years.32 In the paper he wrote,

The task of militants in this country is not yet to lead the working class in a direct challenge to capitalism, but to popularise the basic ideas of the class struggle amongst the workers and their wives and children.33

He used the Agit-Prop Department to mould the party accordingly. With a new syllabus adapted from the British Communist party's manual, the Agit-Prop department, that is, Hig, chivvied the local and industry groups to make training a routine activity:

By the end of March we want to have reports from every group on Party Training Classes and propaganda activities of the month. Send in careful reports on Party Training, showing how many classes, how many members attending, whether attendance was regular, how far the classes have gone in the Training Manual, what sections or questions in the Manual have caused difficulties and what assistance is required from the Central Executive.34

Topics for discussion were decided at the centre. Branches were showered with leaflets, pamphlets, notes for lectures, slogans for demonstrations, a monthly political letter, and the regular Central Executive reports. If none of these proved palatable they were told to use the Workers' Weekly to stimulate discussion at the meetings. He issued instructions about the form of discussion:

In all classes the main idea should be to draw every member into active participation ...It is desirable that the leader should at the commencement of the class outline in a popular way according to a definite program the gist of the subject for the day ... The text should on no account be read around the class ... The leader should give a resume of everything discussed at the end ... Wherever possible, the leader should outline the main problems in the subject matter to be studied and should distribute these problems amongst the members of the class for their investigation, to be followed subsequently by discussion at class meetings.35

Really, it was just like a university tutorial, or rather the method used in the outreach activities of the Tutorial Classes departments of universities except that there was the expectation that training would result in action. The Communist party was understood as a tightly-controlled university for 'professional' revolutionaries. It was on this basis that it would attract recruits. They would have to complete a training class in Communist principles before they could be expected to carry out even routine duties 'in the proper spirit'.36

The role that Higgins had assumed was that of the Communist inner-party expert. It built on his own training in Communist communication and organisation under Rajani Palme Dutt and Pollitt in London, with the addition of his university-acquired pedagogic expertise. He was a political technician operating within the peculiar culture of a revolutionary organisation. It was a role, however, that carried its own contradictions. What if the balance in training classes shifted towards the ideas themselves rather than the action that should flow from them? Higgins was at pains to stress that ideas should not be raised in an 'academic spirit'. However, it must have been difficult for group leaders to squeeze a militant response from students attending the five discussions of May- June 1928 on imperialism, beginning with 'The Theory of Imperialism' and ending with 'The Dissolution of the British Empire'. There was also the less specific defect of the clash of tones that accompanied this role. On the one hand the militant exhortation; on the other the school-masterly voice revealed in the constructed, politesse phrasing that marks the formally educated-mind ('Do not fail to get busy ...'; 'Herewith are suggestions ...'), and in the condescending and gratuitous provision of information (the Communist Manifesto 'was drawn up as the platform of a political party, the Communist League ...'). Through these tasks he re-integrated himself into the party, but there were looming tensions between the mundanity of the tasks and the revolutionary mode of intellectual work to which he aspired.


To say that Higgins lost out in the factional war that came to a head in 1930-31 is correct, but it is also misleading, because it implies that Higgins was part of a faction. He was not. In the victorious faction's published history of the party his name is missing (although several of his unsigned Workers' Weekly articles were quoted and criticised), whereas his friend Jack Ryan, who had a lower profile in the party, was excoriated.37 The fact was that he was very popular in the party, even as his enemies were getting the upper hand. At the 9th party congress in December 1929 he was the only member of the previous Central Committee (CC) to be re-elected, and the new dominant faction had to allow him to continue as editor of the paper and member of the Agit-Prop department. A pretext to ease him from these positions only came when problems with his eyesight forced him to enter hospital in February 1930.38 Nor was his sin lack of loyalty to Moscow, or of acceptance of its new line, that the struggle against capitalism was entering a 'third period' of 'class against class' in which social democracy would desert the working class for 'social fascism'. After all, he had been the Australian party's delegate to the 6th Comintern Congress in 1928, and on his return he endorsed Moscow's new line in his report to the party's 8th Conference, concluding: 'On our principal tasks and line of policy we have no reason in the world to disagree'.39 Moreover, despite being condemned viciously by the dominant faction at the 10th Congress he was too valuable to be hounded out of the party.

The main front in the factional battle was fought over whether to oppose the Labor Party in elections. At the 8th Conference Higgins introduced the resolution on 'The Struggle Against Labor Party Reformism', which directed the party to a new, more critical approach to the ALP. At the recent elections in Queensland Communists had fielded candidates against the governing Labor party, which had been defeated. Although Communist and 'left' candidates had attracted only a small vote, proponents of this tactic believed it should be extended to other parts of the country. Opponents of 'the Queensland line' stressed how different the ALP was elsewhere, implying that Communists might support it in a federal election. Higgins tried to steer a middle course in the discussion, arguing that the ALP was 'in the process of becoming anti-working class, but it was still vulnerable to working class pressure'.40 When the federal election of 1929 was announced the issue had not been resolved. The Central Executive, taking into account the weakened position of the party, decided against running Communist candidates and adopted a policy of supporting Labor's campaign to defeat the conservative government.41 The proponents of the Queensland line appealed to Moscow, received the support of the Comintern, and a Comintern representative arrived soon after to enforce the new line as part of Stalin's effort to capture the world Communist movement.42

Although Higgins later admitted that he and other members of the Central Executive were mistaken in 1929, at the time he had justified their position with the statement that 'the New Line could not automatically be applied without careful examination of realities'.43 It was a revealing statement. The issue in his mind was not whether the new line was right or wrong but how to adapt it to Australian conditions. This was just the latest appearance of a problem that he had considered on the boat back to Australia and that had preoccupied him since his embrace of bolshevism in 1919. How could he reconcile his view that Australia was 'an exception', and therefore not ready for revolution, with his belief in the impact of international class forces on Australia? He repeated in 1929 the analysis he had made in 1924: that Australian capitalism was expanding and 'therefore there was still some basis for the growth of reformism'. Behind this argument, however, was there perhaps a lingering trace of his youthful radical-nationalism, with its assumption that democracy would be the engine of working class progress?44 The need for democracy in the party was the basis of his opposition to the Comintern representative and to the Stalinists who ran the party so ruthlessly after 1929. They suppressed his contribution to pre- conference discussion, which he had pointedly titled, 'Discussion and Analysis Necessary to Prevent Further Illusions'.45

Apart from the stifling of discussion what outraged Higgins were the lies of the Stalinists and their treatment of comrades who opposed them. The lies were either slanders - blatant misrepresentations of the actions of their opponents (especially of Hig's friends Jack Ryan and Jack Kavanagh) - or dishonest intellectual moves. In his pre-congress discussion contribution, in a letter to Harry Pollitt, and in his only speech at the 10th party Congress, where he would be removed from the leadership, Higgins indicted the Stalinists. They took statements of limited application out of context and used them as if they were of great theoretical significance. They answered criticism of failures of the new leadership by ad hominem attack. Worst of all, and this was a particularly galling admission for a Communist intellectual to make about the party's leadership, beneath their lies was an attitude of contempt for truth and scorn for theory. As if to verify the charge, the Stalinists at the Congress ridiculed the way Higgins made distinctions in argument.46 Only Mensheviks and Trotskyists were concerned about differences of opinion. 'There is no room in the Communist Party for slight differences of opinion', opined Ted Docker, while the Comintern representative threatened that, 'We are going to have one monolithic whole, and we are not going to waste time battling with individuals ...' who disagree with the leadership. There was, they said, no place for Higgins in the new leadership because he was an 'agent of Left Social Fascism', or even, according to Lance Sharkey, ploughing a very wide furrow, of the Kulaks.47

Yet Higgins remained loyal to the party. While working as an articled clerk he continued to run the League Against Imperialism (LAI) in the evenings. So important was his role that only nine months after his humiliation at the Congress he was invited to attend the CC Plenum, where he no doubt took some satisfaction in accusing the CC of adopting 'an attitude of frivolity' to the LAI, and of 'playing to the gallery'. In reply, J.B. Miles, the new national secretary, was conciliatory. Indeed at the next plenum in March 1932, Miles, in his opening address, quoted Higgins as offering a correct evaluation at the earlier plenum of the party's tendency to issue reports but not to follow them up with action. Later in the discussion, Sam Aarons referred to 'the very experienced comrade', obviously Higgins, who had placed the LAI on such a firm footing. A kind of rehabilitation was taking place. Miles was, no doubt, too shrewd not to realise how lacking the party was in the kind of intellectual skills that Hig possessed. Indeed, the same plenum appointed Higgins as editor of the Red Leader, the weekly newspaper of the Militant Minority Movement, and arranged for another cadre to take over his role in the LAI. As Guido Baracchi wrote to Nettie,

As to Esmonde: I guess you must resign yourself to his being a professional revolutionary for good, with all that that implies. And it does not imply safety, not in any respect. But I wouldn't worry too much over him; he has a fine damn sense of self-preservation after all. And he is too valuable to the Party for them to let him starve.48

Higgins gave up his articles with the solicitor and threw himself again into party activity: editing, writing, taking street meetings, running classes, lecturing, and standing for a seat in the state elections (he received a derisory 100 votes).49

No longer an authority on inner-party matters, Hig's role contracted. He was still a technician of Communist propaganda but the skills he offered were narrower, and if valued by the party they were nonetheless subordinated to political strategies decided by others. He was not comfortable in this role. On the one hand it did not satisfy his creative desire; on the other it released the critical side of his mind. He began to consider propositions that were anathema to the Stalinists, as he revealed in 1934 during a debate in the bohemian atmosphere of Swanston's Family Hotel (in Melbourne) where he defended Trotsky's 'permanent revolution' thesis while Judah Waten put the case for Stalin's strategy of 'socialism in one country'.50 When Jack Kavanagh visited Hig and Joy at their shop (a 'mixed business') in the inner-city suburb of Surry Hills, he was irritated to find Hig was 'still as indeterminate as ever. Not prepared to advance an opinion, but to criticise or amend an opinion put forward'.51 What Kavanagh regarded as a defect, Hig's mixture of intellectual rigour and didacticism, would eventually provide a life-enhancing outlet for Higgins. Meanwhile, the dissatisfaction he experienced in his role was reinforced by the disappointment he felt in the behaviour of his comrades. The calumnies of his opponents he could live with, but to be betrayed by comrades he had worked alongside for years disturbed him greatly.52 He and Joy were also disgusted by the sycophantic behaviour of comrades who fawned over the visiting Communist journalist Egon Kisch and novelist Katherine Prichard.53

A period of crisis occurred in his life between mid-1934 and early 1935, triggered by another bout of ill-health. Nettie described him as 'pale and drained as if from irregular hours and overwork for years'. A few months later he was diagnosed as suffering from spinal rheumatism.54 He relinquished his editorship of the Red Leader and rejected an offer to edit the Miners' union paper, Common Cause. More revealing were his decisions about his domestic and professional life-spheres. He and Joy got married in January 1935. They decided to sell the shop and move to the rural fringe of the city, beyond the network of inner-city Communist activists, and Hig decided to find work that drew on his academic qualifications. They spent a lean year at Asquith, in a ‘little rambling shack in very open, heathy bush'.55 He had no success as a free-lance writer (except with union and party publications, which did not pay), or in obtaining an adult education lectureship at Sydney university, so he had to rely on a few days 'relief work' for the dole each week, and on the goats and fowls that he and Joy were able to run on the Asquith block.56 Gradually however his health improved, and a new resolution to the problem of combining Communist and intellectual roles took shape. He had two kinds of problems to solve: how to persuade ordinary people that revolutionary politics was relevant to their everyday lives, and how to make use of his scholarly training in revolutionary politics. Asquith, or rather the distance that it put between Hig and the zealotry of party headquarters, contributed to solving both. In a letter to Nettie he was almost ecstatic about 'the folks we're gradually meeting':

Solid blokes from the relief work, who don't mind a bit of politics if it is well mixed with interest in their own hobbies. (I've just about come to accept the legitimacy of 'hobbies'.)... This new-found delight in talking with people about what they are interested in has a queer effect; I feel more than ever that Marxism is the only clue to life, but I'm overwhelmingly impressed with the conviction that persuasion is the most difficult job in the world, which can be performed only on the basis of patient, diffuse, deliberate personal contact and conversation about 'human interests', assuming nothing but an interest in living.

He and Joy found themselves on week-ends running a kind of salon, a private space where 'tired Reds and complacent Pinks' came 'to enjoy unbitter discussion about things that are generally unmentionable'. He went on:

We're kidding ourselves that we are performing a social function as intermediaries, while as a matter of fact all we can be sure of is that we like it and are learning how complex is the job of 'influencing' people. Relief work, in particular, has taught me modesty; it is impossible to accept that others will accept one's own standards.

Also while at Asquith he accepted an invitation from the Workers' Educational Association to deliver a lecture on Stalin in a series on 'Dictatorships on Trial'. It was his chance to avoid the kind of panegyric expected of a Communist. As he explained to Nettie, he was now convinced that it was his duty, because of his university training and 'background' (he meant the cultural capital he acquired from the middle-class intellectual friendships of his youth in Melbourne) 'to think around all sides of his theory'. He told Nettie:

I prepared for it as for an exam, reading, noting, and arranging all imaginable material. As a result... my lecture and answers were the best Communist propagandist effort to date in Sydney (I am going on the evidence of listeners who are ordinarily hard to impress) ... This lecture gave me a huge amount of pleasure...

He summed up the lesson: revolutionaries with 'qualifications and standing' should use their 'special talents' so that they avoided becoming 'blind hacks'.57 Thus free to think for themselves they should 'serve as a link or arbitrator between activists and philosophers, enabling them to find a common language'.58 Like 'the conversation about human interests' with ordinary people, this solution formulated the revolutionary problem as one of collective consciousness, with the Communist intellectual as an intermediary between the worlds of ideology and action.59

In 1936 Higgins had a chance to implement these ideas when he was appointed as Tutorial Classes Lecturer in Northern Tasmania. The tutorial classes movement relied on universities to provide tutors for classes organised off- campus by the Workers' Educational Association (WEA). As the Left gathered strength among intellectuals in the 1930s, many branches of the WE A became sites of radical pedagogy; Hig's friend Lloyd Ross was already associated with this trend in New South Wales.60 In his inaugural lecture Higgins presented his new insights in the context of teaching for the WE A. In content his classes would be 'directed to life'. In form they would be spaces of free inquiry and discussion, where impartiality would be a technique of discussion. Did this mean his own ideas would be hidden? Of course not, given that the WE A adopted the social ideal of the workers, a collectivist ideal, and must develop in harmony with the workers' movement. However, the WEA had to stay neutral as to the different political schools in the movement.61 Hig expected that many of his students would be recruited from work places, indeed if possible classes would be held in railway workshops and factories. He proposed that they would learn under his guidance 'The History of the Australian Labour Movement' and 'Europe Since 1918', but how he would relate these topics to their lives he did not say.62

Higgins went to Tasmania with a commission from the Communist Party to put the handful of comrades there straight about the new Comintern line of unity against fascism. As J.B. Miles wrote in the letter Hig carried:

Higgins cannot appear openly as a party member but he will report directly to the Central Committee, and as an undercover member he will be able to assist the growth of the united front.

Higgins duly carried out his commission, reporting in April 1936 that the comrades were sectarian and demoralised. To sweeten the pill, and perhaps to assuage any doubts about his own loyalty, he passed on the news that the WE A had agreed that his tutorial classes would be directed to the rank and file.63 Over the next two years in fact his loyalty did weaken, but his effectiveness as a revolutionary increased. This was his moment of disenchantment.

Finding an audience for his 'new language' proved to be difficult. In 1937 his classes at the pulp mill at Burnie collapsed, and at the Launceston railway workshop classes, although he asked the 'men to raise the questions they discussed on the job', none were forthcoming.64 This led him to question his attitude to Marxism. He decided that it was the only philosophy that 'provides a clue to the past, the present and the future', but that as a revolutionary discourse it was both 'unintelligible and offensive'. Yes, Tasmanians were conservative, but the more fundamental issue, he said, was that for ordinary people Marxism failed to meet both their need to develop a faith in progress and their desire for a richer life. This was the rock on which Communism would founder, in spite of its superficial respectability in the 'people's front' period. He did have moments of reversion, when he hankered after the simple Leninist truths, for example 'straight Leninist anti-militarism' rather than the inclusive liberal pacifism of the peace movement. Similarly, although he despised the Stalinist Communist parties for their refusal to condemn the treason trials in the Soviet Union, he defended the Bolshevik revolution, and the role of the Soviet Union in the struggle against fascism. He worried too that the collective security objective was displacing workers' struggle as the strategy of the Communist movement. Then he would remind himself that there was no alternative if fascism was to be defeated. Democracy, not socialism, was the value that needed affirming, because it summed up 'the very attractive things which capitalism today is not prepared to give'. He debated these questions with his friends Jack and Edna Ryan and Jack and Edna Kavanagh, becoming in the course of the correspondence more decisive in his position, and more relieved that he was free of party control. At the same time he became more politically active, not just through the WEA but in the Free Library Movement, the Spanish Relief Committee, and the Friends of the Soviet Union (FOSU).65

During three 'exhilarating' years (1938-41) in New Zealand, where he held a Tutorial Classes post in Auckland, Higgins continued this two-pronged practice. He directed his teaching to workers' groups, or at least to 'ordinary dinkum bush people', and he found in the WEA, and in the radical journal, Tomorrow, a congenial setting for exploring his ideas about education for social change.66 He praised the WEA for its close association with the New Zealand Labour Party (and hence with practical efforts to improve workers’ lives) while criticising socialists for their narrow view of the movement, which ignored the transformative power of democracy in industry and adult education:

Whether we like it or not, it is those interested in social change who turn out to be interested in adult education. Far better an active, expanding [educational] movement in which 'radicals' can get what they want than an organisation which is so careful to maintain its aloofness from the daily struggle that it matters to no one.67

He had settled into a new role as a dissenting socialist intellectual, a role defined by engagement in the process of giving a new meaning to the idea of revolution. This is what he meant by finding a 'common language' for the workers' movement, a language or frame for talking about revolution in terms of enriching daily life, extending democracy, and inspiring a love of learning - a frame that would reach out to ordinary people and persuade them of the need for action. He had to distance himself from the symbolic world of Communism to develop this language, but he remained committed to 'the daily struggle' against injustice and exploitation of the revolutionary tradition. It was on this basis that he continued to defend the Bolshevik revolution and the Soviet Union.


What if 'the daily struggle' lapsed into a routine, giving rise to expectations of automatic improvements rather than hopes for revolution? What if it was not possible to defend the Soviet Union without aligning oneself with the Communist party? These were pertinent problems for his practice at the end of the 1930s. When a friend from his student days, the historian Keith Hancock, visited Hig in Auckland he found him refreshingly 'concrete instead of doctrinal'. A short time later Hig chaired a meeting in the Tivoli Theatre, Auckland, for an Australian trade union leader, Tony McGillick, about his visit to the Soviet Union. McGillick's tour of New Zealand was of course organised by the Communists and the meeting was under the auspices of the FOSU.68 But when the war broke out Hig was bewildered by the position of the Soviet Union. He publicly advocated a form of quietism; 'refusing to accept the war', Nettie called it. His advice was to sit tight, to avoid getting caught up in overseas events, and to focus on defending civil liberties and 'general life' at home.69 Had his practice continued along these lines he might have drifted out of politics although retaining a sympathy for his early ideals. Secure in his professional and family life (Joy and he had two young children by 1945) he no longer needed the emotional support of fellow revolutionaries. He might have moved from disenchantment to complete disengagement. Instead he became an apostate and remained politically active.

In 1942 the CPA saw an opportunity to destroy the WEA, which, as a result of the work of Higgins and others, it now saw as a rival educational body in the working class. In a Tutorial Classes discussion course (B40) on 'Political Theories and Movements of Today', the philosopher P.H. Partridge suggested that the Soviet Union was not 'a workers' state' in the sense of workers directly controlling and administering their own affairs. Given an ultimatum by the Communist Party to reject the course, the WEA tried to conciliate, but the Communists would not be mollified. Because the writer of B40 had criticised the Soviet Union, the course was 'pro-fascist'. In brutal language, the Communist party's secretary attacked the WEA as a body of 'non-Labor, anti-Soviet, Trotskyist intellectuals from the University'. Mobilising its members in the labour movement, the Party forced the Labor Council of NSW to disaffiliate from the WEA, and as a result most of the WEA's working-class students were lost, never to be recovered.70 Higgins had returned to Australia in 1941 to take up a post with the Tutorial Classes Department of the University of Sydney, as Staff Tutor at Newcastle. By this time the Soviet Union was an ally, and Higgins was again prominent as one of its 'friends', chairing an 'Aid to Russia' rally in Newcastle. Ironically, it was his known sympathy with the Soviet Union that led to his involvement in the B40 affair, because he was asked by the Tutorial Classes Department to write an additional, 'balancing', course on political and economic developments in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, he watched with growing dismay the 'vile', disruptive behaviour of the Communists at a WEA conference in November 1942.71 Then in 1943 the dispute touched him personally. The WEA secretary in Newcastle, a Communist, professing disgust at the WEA's 'pro-Fascist and anti-Soviet leanings', resigned as part of the CPA's campaign, and persuaded the Newcastle Trades Hall Council to set up a rival Labor College.72 Now it was not simply a matter of pedagogy or politics; the affair might affect Hig's employment. He was forced to show his hand, defending the WEA's approach to education at the Trades Hall Council meeting. For this, in the Communist paper, Tribune, he was ridiculed and labeled as an enemy of the Communist movement: 'In a particularly weak effort, Mr Higgins (ex-member of the Communist Party), used the usual clap-trap about "freedom".'73

Privately, Higgins had already acknowledged that his political and personal position was altering, although as he told Edna Ryan his disillusionment with the CPA was 'in spite of myself'.74 His difficulty arose because he did not want to give comfort to the anti-Communists in the unions.75 In April 1943, however, he began publicly attacking the party in radio broadcasts and newspaper articles.

Replying in kind to the attacks on the WEA, he described the Party's unwillingness to hear criticism, and its use of labels and slogans, as 'fascist methods'; the CPA would not lead the people to socialism because it was 'unprincipled' and 'mechanically linked to the Soviet Union'.76 In another address in 1944, reprinted in The Standard, the Labor party's journal, he delineated the difference between propaganda, instruction, and education, and used the B40 affair to demonstrate the Communist Party's fear of education. In contrast, he defended the democratic socialist approach to education of the Labor party, 'the party I speak for'. It was this lecture that prompted Guido Baracchi to write:

So you've joined the Labor Party, you old rascal, and left a bloke to learn it from The Standard ... This is good news to me, since it can only mean that you've become definitely 'political' again.77

Indeed, Higgins did become more prominent as a socialist intellectual after the B40 affair. He went on radio to declare that the attainment of 'full socialism' ought to be the reason the labour movement gave for supporting the war effort. In his lectures and published articles he lauded democratic planning, attacked the misconception that socialism meant state paternalism, and advocated workers' control.78 He fought hard within adult education circles to preserve its historic link with the labour movement ('unless adult education is closely linked with forces of social discontent, it is likely to die of anaemia', he told its Victorian administrator in 1943), and resisted the trend to marginalise political and economic subjects in the WEA curriculum.79 He gave courses for the Henry Lawson Labor College set up by the NSW Labor Party in 1945, and along with Lloyd Ross, Bruce Miller, Eileen Powell, Heinz Arndt and others he formed a socialist discussion group in 1946.80 By 1947 he was also effectively the editor of the fortnightly Current Affairs Bulletin, a pithy stimulus to public debate that circulated widely to schools and local libraries.81 If he continued to talk-up the WEA as a site of working-class resistance to capitalism he was now equally interested in reaching a wider and different audience through mainstream publications and the radio.

The Communist party found this activity a threat, attacking him in the Communist Review in 1946 and again in 1948.82 His views on the party and its policies were just as rejectionist. He opposed the Communist-led 1949 coal strike.83 Internationally, he cited the insatiable nature of Soviet expansionism in the Cold War as his reason for opposing Labor's traditional isolationism, even if it were dressed up by socialists as armed neutrality.84 On the other hand he did not think that banning the Communist party was right in principle or in its likely consequences. Writing to the New Zealand marxist historian, Willis Airey Higgins said:

In the last ten years I've relapsed more and more into nineteenth century liberalism. I think I know what democracy means and it is the only t'ink [sic] I believe in, and I believe the CP is its enemy as much as is MacArthur [sic]. When an issue like the recent Referendum [to ban the CPA] comes up, that is easy, but certainly most things aren't as simple as that. I've come to be doing a fair bit of ABC news commentating, and there are often problems of conscience.85

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) obviously thought that things were simple, because it considered recruiting Higgins to spy on his colleagues in 1952, despite being told by one of those colleagues already susceptible to pressure that:

Any approach to Higgins would need to be carefully carried out, the combating of espionage being the key rather than the straight political approach.86

Nonetheless, an approach was made, and Hig immediately informed the Sydney Association of University Teachers. The union called a staff meeting, the attendance was large and angry, and in its aftermath the governing body of the university passed a resolution condemning the practice of the security service of seeking informants on campus because it would restrict academic freedom, and Dr H.V. Evatt, the leader of the Labor opposition in the Commonwealth Parliament, used Hig's case (without mentioning his name) to attack the Menzies government.87


The disengagement of Esmonde Higgins from Communism was a long process, even longer if one considers the foreshadowing state of disillusionment in the mid 1920s. His progress from doubt to disenchantment to apostasy was not a straight line but a series of cycles as his experience of crisis shifted to different life-spheres, and as he searched for an intellectual practice that would re- integrate his political, professional, and personal life. His defection was not just a public and overt act but a subjective process of building a new political identity through reflecting on his practice. He was thus able to break out of the limbo of inactivity predicted by Passy and Guigni for defectors. That part of E.P. Thompson's definition of apostasy that refers to a relapse into 'received patterns of thought and feeling' is suggestive about Higgins, who admitted that he had taken up the liberalism of his youth again. However, perhaps, it would be more accurate to describe this as a regenerative experience, for Higgins had never separated himself from liberalism even in his role as Communist expert.

Certainly he had no 'immoderate reverse' into reaction; on the contrary after his break with the CPA he found it difficult to reconcile his political role as dissenting socialist intellectual with his brutal separation from the movement that had inspired his activism. So, although he never hid his anti-communism, privately he was discomforted. For example, in 1945 he thought that it was a tragedy that a party that 'proposes to offer a bold lead against obstacles to human betterment' should alienate its idealistic recruits by demanding loyalty to itself as an institution.88

Thompson's idea of disenchantment is more fruitful. Faced with marginalisation by the new party leaders he discovered something important about himself: that he was a liberal intellectual, albeit a radical one. And faced with the choice of giving up the revolutionary project or finding a new practice he formulated a set of ideas that could carry his understanding of that project into adult education. He re-cast workers' education as a site where intellectuals and activists could be brought together, and moreover he attributed authenticity to it, refusing to see it as an auxiliary to the industrial or political arenas. In so doing he joined other democratic-socialist WEA-ers, including his friends Lloyd Ross, Ken Dallas and Bruce Miller, in an emerging political current whose history remains to be written. Their politics was a vindication of his defection. By remaining focused on the project of formulating a socialist intellectual practice Higgins had turned defection into a political positive. For his biographer this is a sweet conclusion; for the historian of the labour movement it opens up the connections between ideas, intellectuals, and adult education.

* I would like to thank Rowan Cahill and Sean Scalmer for their suggestions.


1. I remember Bob Gould telling me this on the steps of the Public Library in Sydney in the late fifties. According to A. Davidson, The Communist Party of Australia, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, California, 1969, pp. 83 and 120, when it was at its peak in 1944, the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) had 23,000 members; in 1956 there were 5,850.

2. Oriel Gray, Exit Left – Memoirs of as Scarlet Woman, Penguin Books, Ringwood Victoria, 1985, pp. 226-227.

3. Cecil H. Sharpley, The Great Delusion: the autobiography of an ex-Communist leader, Heinemann, London, 1952.

4. Richard Crossman, ‘Introduction’ in R.Crossman (ed.) The God That Failed – Six Studies in Communism, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1950, p. 15.

5. David Walker, Dream and Disillusion: A Search for Australian Cultural Identity, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1976, especially ch. 6.

6. A fuller version of this argument may be found in Terry Irving, ‘Modernity’s Discontents: Esmonde Higgins and James Rawling as Labour Intellectuals’, Eucalypt (University of Barcelona), vol. 3, June 2004.

7. On the history of the CPA in this period see, S. Macintyre, The Reds – The Communist Party of Australia from Origins to Illegality, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards, Australia, 1998; F. Farrell, International Socialism and Australian Labour – The Left in Australia, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1981; Davidson, The Communist Party of Australia (as above), and Robin Gollan, Revolutionaries and Reformists – Communism and the Australian Labour Movement 1920-1955, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1975. According to Macintyre p. 179, there were just 486 members in 1930, a twofold increase over the previous year.

8. Rawling depicted Higgins in this way in his unpublished history of the Communist Party in the J.N. Rawling Papers, Noel Butlin Archives Centre (NBAC), Australian National University, Canberra, N57/2 and 202. This was Rawling’s view after 1940, the year of his defection.

9. Lascelles Wilson, ‘Esmonde MacDonald Higgins’, Union Recorder [University of Sydney], 9 March 1961. See also his obituary for Higgins in Australian Quarterly, xxxiii (1), March 1961, pp. 7-10

10. Michael Roe, ‘Higgins, Esmonde Macdonald’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 14, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1996, pp. 449-50; Stephen Holt, ‘Esmonde Higgins and the Palmer Collection’, National Library of Australia News, July 1993, p.10.

11. Security Intelligence records, Personal file on E. M. Higgins, Australian Archives (AA), ACT, CRS A6126/25/411, f 147, report dated 30 December 1942. (This file may also be retrieved using A6126 XR1.)

12. Arthur Serner to Higgins, 1 November 1944, ML MSS 740/13/147. The brothers Dutt were important Comintern operatives; Page Arnot had a long intellectual career in British Communism; the research chemist Bacharach was publicly known for his efforts to bring classical music to the people. Higgins met them while working in the Labour Research Department in London, 1921-24.

13. Higgins to Serner, 27 October 1951, E.M. Higgins papers, Mitchell Library, Sydney, ML MSS 740/4/21.

14. James R. Barrett, ‘Revolution and Personal Crisis: William Z. Foster, Personal Narrative and the Subjective in the History of American Communism’, Labor History, vol. 43 (4), pp. 465-482.

15. E.P. Thompson, ‘Disenchantment or Default? A Lay Sermon’, in the posthumous collection of his essays, The Romantics – England in a Revolutionary Age, The New Press, New York, 1997, pp. 33-74. I am grateful to Sean Scalmer for this and the next reference.

16. Florence Passy and Marco Guigni, ‘Life-Spheres, Networks, and Sustained Participation in Social Movements: A Phenomenological Approach’, Sociological Forum, vol. 15, no. 1, 2000, pp. 117-144.

17. AA Canberra, CRS A6126 XR1 item 67, report by R.S. Browne.

18. Rose Cohen to Higgins, 25/3/24, 740/11/375, and ditto, 22/5/24, 740/11/397; Harry Pollitt to Higgins, 17/10/24, 740/11/441. See also Rajani Palme Dutt to Salme Dutt [February 1924], quoted in Macintyre, The Reds, p. 109.

19. This note survives in the papers of J.N. Rawling, NBAC, Australian National University, Canberra, N57/174.

20. The Jesuit reference is in Higgins to his parents, 28 May 1922, ML MSS 740/6.

21. See a series of letters from Christian Jollie Smith to Higgins, between January and July 1924, in ML MSS 740/11.

22. Higgins to [no addressee], 2 September 1924, 740/7; Harry Pollitt to Higgins, 10 December 1924 and 31 December 1924, ML MSS 740/11/473 and 481.

23. See Minutes of the Sydney District of the CPA, 1924-26, AA ACT, Commonwealth Investigation Service Correspondence Files, A8911/1/item 55.

24. Higgins to Pollitt, 30 August 1926, ML MSS 740/7.

25. Higgins to [no addressee] 2 September 1924, as above.

26. Harry Pollitt to Higgins, 15 September 1925, ML MSS 740/11/589.

27. Higgins to Pollitt, 22 March 1925, ML MSS 740/7; also the Sydney District Minute Book referred to above.

28. Russel Ward, A Radical Life, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1988, p. 34.

29. Higgins to Pollitt, 30 August 1926, ML MSS 740/7.

30. Communist Party papers, ML MSS 5021 Add-On 1936, box 1 – report of 6th Annual Conference, December 1926.

31. ‘Agit-Prop’ was the term in international Communist jargon for ‘agitation-propaganda’.

32. Certainly for 1928 and 29. The record is not clear for 1927.

33. 'Fight War by Fighting Capitalism - Communist International Leads - Strengthen CP for Great Struggle Ahead', Workers’ Weekly (WW), 2 August 1929, (main front-page article).

34. AA ACT, A 8911/1/item 56 – Circular letter from Agit-Prop Department , signed by Higgins, 15 March 1928.

35. AA ACT, A 8911/1/item 56 – Circular letter, 18 January 1929.

36. AA ACT, A 8911/1/item 56 – Circular letter, 11 June 1929.

37. L.L. Sharkey, An Outline History of the Australian Communist Party, Australian Communist Party, Sydney, 1944; see also E.W. Campbell, History of the Australian Labor Movement: A Marxist Interpretation, Current Book Distributors, Sydney, 1945, pp 125-138, where large slabs of the above were reprinted.

38. Higgins to Pollitt, 11 January 1931, J.N. Rawling papers N57/198.

39. The report (8 typed foolscap pages) by Higgins is preserved in a copy of the Congress proceedings in J.N. Rawling papers N57/370.

40. Minutes of the 8th Conference, CPA, December 1928, J.N. Rawling papers, N57/370.

41. Macintyre, pp. 158-60.

42. Barbara Curthoys, ‘The Comintern, the CPA, and the Impact of Harry Wicks’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 39, no. 1, 1993, pp. 23-36. Wicks assumed the name of Herbert Moore while he was the Comintern’s agent in Australia.

43. Higgins, ‘Factional Spirit Holds Party Back’, unpublished contribution to pre-Congress discussion, December 1930, Rawling papers, N57/198.

44. Terry Irving, ‘Modernity’s Discontents: Esmonde Higgins and James Rawling as Labour Intellectuals’, as in note 6.

45. Rawling papers, N57/198.

46. Another example of Higgins’s tendency to discriminate between arguments may be found in his speech to the June 1930 C.C. plenum in the debate on the ‘wave of radicalisation’. Note also at the same plenum his historical analysis of British imperialism in India. See AA ACT A8911/1/51.

47. ML MSS 5021 Add-On 1936, Box 1 (reel FM/10417 and 10418): Communist International Archives re Australia, 1920-1940.

48. Guido Baracchi to Nettie Palmer, 3 October 1932, Palmer papers, Australian National Library (ANL) Canberra, 1174/1/4096.

49. Susanna Short, Laurie Short - A Political Life, Allen and Unwin in association with Lloyd Ross Forum, Sydney, 1992, pp. 14-18; Ralph Gibson, The People Stand Up, Red Rooster Press, Ascot Vale, Victoria, 1983, p. 45; Alan Barcan, Radical Students: the Old Left at Sydney University, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2002, pp 39,40,57,66; Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1932, p.12; Higgins, 'Notes on the Lang Plan', Proletariat, July 1932, pp. 15-19; Nettie Palmer’s Diary, 1934, entries for 8 April and 18 July, Palmer papers, ANL, 1174/16/diaries.

50. Bernard Smith, Noel Counihan - Artist and Revolutionary, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1993, p. 106.

51. Diary of Jack Kavanagh, June 1932-Jan 1933, Kavanagh Collection, NBAC, P12/7.

52. Higgins to Pollitt, 11 January 1931, see above.

53. Higgins to Nettie Palmer, 27 January 1935, Palmer papers, ANL, 1174/1/4575.

54. Nettie Palmer’s diary for 1934, entries for April and July, ANL, 1174/16/diaries.

55. This was Nettie’s description. See Nettie Palmer’s diary for 18 March 1935, ANL, 1174/16/diaries. Asquith is a now a northern suburb, 25 km from the centre of Sydney.

56. Higgins to Nettie Palmer, 16 July 1935, ANL, 1174/1/4717; Higgins to Jack Ryan, 3 November 1935, ML MSS 740/11.

57. It was the same message he passed on to his niece, ‘Helen: if you join the Communist Party keep your independence of mind better than I did.’ See Nettie Palmer’s diary, 22 January 1938, ANL 1174/16/diaries.

58. The quotations in this paragraph are from Higgins to Nettie Palmer, 16 July 1935, ANL, 1174/1/4717.

59. Higgins stopped short of the idea that both activists and intellectuals were engaged in the construction of meaning and hence in ‘a symbolic contest over which meaning will prevail.’ See William A. Gamson, ‘The Social Psychology of Collective Action’, in A.D. Morris and C.M. Mueller (eds), Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1992, p. 67.

60. S. Holt, A Veritable Dynamo: Lloyd Ross and Australian Labour 1901-1987, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Brisbane, 1996, chapter 3.

61. Handwritten notes for lecture, 'Controversial Education', delivered at Oatlands, Tasmania, W.E.A. Conference, April 1936, NBAC N57/526.

62. Higgins to Ken Dallas, 2 March 1936, ML MSS 740/7.

63. The letter from Miles and the report by Higgins are in NBAC N57/187.

64. Higgins to Faulkner, 29 September 1937, 740/7/375; Higgins, ‘Report on Northern Classes’, 23 October 1937, ML MSS 740/18/27.

65. The correspondence on which this paragraph is based has been reprinted with commentary by Michael Roe, ‘E. M. Higgins: A Marxist in Tasmania, 1936-8', Labour History, Number 32, March, 1977, pp. 11-26.

66. Nettie palmer’s diary, 15 June 1938, ANL 1174/16/diaries.

67. Higgins, ‘First Impressions’, Tomorrow, 3 August 1938, ML MSS 740/2/14.

68. Nettie Palmer’s diary for 25 November 1938, ANL, 1174/16/diaries; Tony McGillick, Comrade No More - The Autobiography of a Former Communist Party Leader, Perth, T.C. McGillick, 1980, p. 143.

69. Higgins, notes for talk to Fabian Society, 30 September 1939, ML MSS 740/14/1; and for Nettie’s response to the published version, see her diary for 2 December 1940, ANL, 1174/16/ diaries.

70. The B40 Affair is the subject of a chapter in Esmonde Higgins, David Stewart and the WEA, Workers Educational Association of New South Wales, Sydney, [1957]; L.L. Sharkey, The WEA Exposed! …and an Exposition of the Principles of Democracy and Marxist Socialism, Sydney, 1944.

71. Higgins to Edna Ryan, 17 November 1942, AA ACT A6126/25/411.

72. Higgins, ‘Newcastle Loses a Secretary’, Australian Highway, vol. 25, no.4, August 1943, p. 52.

73. D. Stewart, The Real Issue – Freedom or Suppression, a leaflet issued by the WEA in 1942, held in Rawling Papers, NBAC, N57/526; E.M. Higgins, ‘Newcastle Loses a Secretary’, Australian Highway, vol. 25 (4), August 1943; Tribune, 8 July 1943.

74. Higgins to Edna Ryan, 17 November 1942, AA ACT A6126/25/411; see also Guido Baracchi to Higgins, 6 October 1942, Palmer Papers, 1174/1/6214.

75. Nettie Palmer to Higgins, 17 May 1943, ML MSS 740/9/245.

76. Higgins, ‘Does NZ Show the Way to Socialism?’ 27 April [1943], a talk for radio, in Higgins Papers, ML MSS 740/14/1.

77. Higgins, ‘The Political Approach to Education’ [1944], Rawling papers, NBAC N57/527; Higgins, ‘Shouting the Other Fellow Down’, 30 June 1944 [written for Newcastle Morning Herald], N57/527; Guido Baracchi to Higgins, 27 April 1944, N57/169.

78. Higgins, 'What is to be done about a post-war slump' – talk, 1 March 1943, ML MSS 740/14/1; ‘Does New Zealand Show the Way to Socialism?’, talk, 27 April [1943], 740/14/1; Higgins, [book review], Australian Highway, vol. 26, no. 6, December 1944, p. 87; Higgins, 'Talk of Reconstruction', talk, 21February 1945, 740/14/1; Higgins, 'Labour as state' , talk, 19 August 1948, 740/14/1; Higgins, 'Industrial Democracy', talk, 3 August 1949 in Marrickville, 740/14/2.

79. Higgins to Colin Badger, 22 June 1943, ML MSS 740/7; Higgins, ‘Why Study Politics’, Australian Highway, vol. 38, no. 5, October 1956, p. 67.

80. On the Henry Lawson Labor College see the file in Rawling papers, NBAC N57/533; Holt, A Veritable Dynamo, p. 100.

81. The Current Affairs Bulletin had originally been published by the Army Education Service but in 1947 it passed to the Tutorial Classes Department at the University of Sydney. J.D.B. Miller, unpublished memoir of Higgins, May 2002, in possession of the author of this article.

82. Holt, A Veritable Dynamo, pp. 100-1.

83. Miller, unpublished memoir on Higgins, see above.

84. Higgins to Kingsley Laffer, 7 February 1951, ML MSS 740/7/393.

85. Higgins to Willis Airey, 7 October 1951, ML MSS 740/7/445.

86. AA ACT A6126/25/411, Memorandum from Director General ASIO to Regional Director NSW, 12 December 1952.

87. Ken Buckley and Ted Wheelwright, False Paradise - Australian Capitalism Revisited, 1915-1955, Oxford University Press, Melbourne , 1998, pp. 260-1.

88. Higgins, unpublished review of Campbell’s Marxist history of the Australian labour movement, ML MSS 740/2/12.