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In memory of Comrade John McCarthy

By Pat Brewer

John McCarthy, a veteran socialist and Queensland doctor died Saturday November 1 at 11 am peacefully at home after a long struggle with cancer.

John was born, raised and educated in Queensland. At a very young age he radicalised initially around the social inequalities in Australian society as he experienced it – particularly the problems of racism and the situation of Aboriginal people in Queensland. He saw indigenous people picked up from where they lived and worked and carried off on trucks to be separated and confined to Aboriginal missions such as Cherbourg nearby.

He became a socialist when he was 15, and rapidly moved to the left of the Labor Party, seeing no solution there. There seemed to be no solution in the Communist Party, as it was then, either. He became a Marxist through reading books such as Victor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Leon Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution, and was greatly influenced by Isaac Deutscher's books on Trotsky and Stalin at that time. He took a strong Leninist position, and so by the time he was 19, he planned to go to Cuba as a confirmed Leninist and

McCarthy travelled to Cuba, and then to Europe, at the end of the 1960s. He was very impressed with what he saw in Cuba, because it was a revolution in practice. Despite many problems, the Cuban people were taking back their heritage and attempting to make the best of life in those circumstances. This was achieved despite horrendous opposition and threats from their neighbour [the USA], and from the capitalist world generally.

In Europe he became associated with the Fourth International (FI) and joined the International Marxist Group (IMG) in Britain. But in Europe he began to experience the faction divisions in the Left which undermined its effectiveness to lead an alternative. After he returned to Australia in the `70s he became quite active in left politics in Brisbane and helped found the Communist League as one of two factional groups aligned with the FI in an attempt to establish a revolutionary party. He felt that such a party needed to be composed of active members of their trade unions, work groups, professions and social movements.

McCarthy played an active role in leading the fusion of the two groups aligned with the divisions in the FI during the late 1970s and saw this coming together of these groups into the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) as a positive development. He felt that the divisions between the groups had been generated by overseas factional interests rather
than home grown political developments..

After a period of intense activity during the late `60s and `70s and active work in the combined SWP organisation McCarthy stepped back to pursue his medical career. As he explained it he was `burned out'. But whilst he pursued his medical career his identification as a socialist and a Leninist never faltered and from time to time he re-engaged directly with the movement. He joined Socialist Alliance when it formed and continued to explore the openings for socialist here and internationally.

While he saw the major problem as a failure of leadership of the revolution internationally, he was never pessimistic. He welcomed and supported the gains made as they were won and the leadership as it emerged. In particularly he recognised Hugo Chavez as an intelligent,gifted individual, who faces many of the problems of class society, and provides a role model for both young and old. He felt the danger for Chavez was international isolation and hence the importance of building solidarity.

His vision of the future articulated in the final months of his life was optimistic. "The fight is the fight for simple justice to begin with. To do that today you've got to be organised and create a revolutionary movement that's rooted in the majority of the population. You don't see Chavez going around saying he's revolutionary, or socialist, or Leninist, all the time. As long as that basic principle of exploitation is recognised, and that it's reversed. You don't have to proclaim yourselves as revolutionary at all times.

"Trotsky's statement is still true. The future we face as the human race is `socialism or barbarism'. There's no alternative, and we're faced with new manifestations of barbarism, not the same as 50, 60, 70 years ago, but still there. And probably more dangerous now. The danger for the left is sectarianism. Sects talk just to each other, and not to the population. As my grandmother used to say, if you can't talk to the common man, there's no point."

John remained committed to the fight for human liberation all his life. He is survived by his partner Kerry, their three children - Matthew, Leo and Cecilia - and two daughters from a previous relationship - Bridget and Bernadette.

The condolences and sympathy of the Democratic Socialist Perspective goes out to them.

* John McCarthy's funeral will be held this Friday, November 7 in Gympie. Details of the funeral were in the Australian November 5 and in the Courier Mail November 4.

1 Com:

Anonymous | November 13, 2008

John McCarthy, along with a number of other comrades, was key in recruiting me to revolutionary socialism (what we used to call "Trotskyism") when I was close to 15 years old myself in 1972. After many years of working together in the Communist League we found ourselves on opposite sides of a debate in the group over unity with the pro-US SWP forces in what was then the Socialist Workers League (now DSP and RSP.) Since that time I had no contact with John but who I am now (both politically and otherwise) is partly because of his immense political intellect, skills and talent.
I will always remember him.
David Fagan

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