John Falzon wearing a Vladimir Lenin t-shirt to commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution with his wife Hacqui Agius.
Honouring the founder of totalitarianism is all a bit of a joke. According to John Falzon, that is. Falzon is on leave from his position as national chief executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society, one of the Catholic Church’s charitable organisations, while he attempts to win preselection as the endorsed Australian Labor Party candidate for the safe Labor seat of Canberra in the ACT.
As revealed by Troy Bramston in The Australian on Tuesday, Falzon and his wife, Jacqui Agius, attended a celebration last November at the Russian Federation embassy in Canberra to mark the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution. In November 1917, Vladimir Lenin was the leader of the Bolsheviks. His key fellow revolutionaries at the time included Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky.
Falzon and Agius, an industrial officer for the Australian Education Union, were photographed in front of a yellow hammer and sickle against a red background. He is wearing a T-shirt displaying Lenin’s image. She is in a red blouse.
When contacted by The Australian about his attire and the occasion, Falzon said: “It was a bit of fun. A bit of tongue-in-cheek, a bit of fun with friends. It was a good night and, you know, a lot of people do all sorts of things at parties.”
Well, some do. And some don’t. But the point about Falzon is that he saw nothing wrong in celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution by dressing up with an image of Lenin on his chest. Lenin (who died in 1923) was a revolutionary who brought down not the imperial government of Tsar Nicholas II but, rather, the interim government led by social democrat Alexander Kerensky. In other words, the communist Lenin prevailed over the social democrat Kerensky (who subsequently spent a brief time in Brisbane).
Lenin effectively invented the totalitarian state, which subsequently was implemented, in various forms, by Benito Mussolini in Italy, Adolf Hitler in Germany, Mao Zedong in China, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Fidel Castro in Cuba and more besides.
It was Lenin who established a dictatorship that was sustained by secret police and the establishment of labour camps and that proclaimed an official ideology, in this case Marxism-Leninism.
In Lenin the Dictator: An Intimate Portrait (W&N, 2017), Victor Sebestyen writes that Lenin was not a monster like Stalin, but “he built a system based on the idea that political terror against opponents was justified for a greater end”. This “was perfected by Stalin, but the ideas were Lenin’s”.
In his book The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive (Yale University Press, 1996), Richard Pipes uses Lenin’s own words to demonstrate that the founder of the Bolsheviks resorted to unbridled violence and presided over boundless corruption.
The St Vincent de Paul Society refers to its national chief executive as “Dr John Falzon”. He obviously is proud of his doctorate in social analysis and is a published poet with a work titled Communists Like Us (UWA Publishing, 2017). So Falzon enjoys the intellectual freedom that Western democracies provide. But he proudly displays the image of a dictator who crushed not only workers and peasants but also members of the intelligentsia.
As Pipes documents, Lenin tracked down dissident intellectuals more ferociously than the tsarist police. In a letter to Stalin written in July 1922, Lenin orders that the secret police “should submit a list of several hundred such gentlemen (intellectuals) who must be deported abroad without mercy”. He says the Bolshevik regime “will purge Russia (of intellectuals) for a long time to come”.
Needless to say, Lenin’s targets included the Orthodox Church, the largest Christian entity in Russia. The Bolsheviks seized church property and any priests who resisted were summarily shot. Vyacheslav Molotov, who served both Lenin and Stalin, said Lenin was “more severe” and “harsher” than the man who succeeded him and became synonymous with the term Stalinist and Stalinism.
Yet the poet Falzon, who works for a Christian charity (when he is not seeking ALP preselection), reckons that presenting himself as a Lenin-promoting communist is sort of cool. He also seems unaware of, or unconcerned with, the fact the hammer and sickle was the emblem of the various communist regimes that suppressed eastern Europe from the end of World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In 1920 Lenin wrote a pamphlet titled ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder. A century later, it’s fair to say Falzon is both left-wing and infantile.
From the time of the Bolshevik Revolution until 1968, the extreme Left in Australia supported the communist regime in what came to be called the Soviet Union. There was the Communist Party of Australia and its various political fronts. The CPA supported Lenin and Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev (for a while at least).
From time to time a communist operative or fellow traveller would realise this particular secular god had failed, in protest against Stalin’s purges in the 1930s, the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, the anti-Semitic Doctors Plot of the early 50s and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956. But the crunch came when the Soviet Union crushed the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
In 1968, the CPA finally split with Moscow. The continuing Stalinists formed the breakaway Socialist Party of Australia under the leadership of Bill and Freda Brown (Lee Rhiannon’s parents). A half-century later it seems small-c communists such as Falzon appear to believe Lenin was a good bloke and appear to deny that Lenin made Stalinism possible.
The resurgence of the infantile is evident in the fact Falzon and his comrades believe he should be the ALP’s member for Canberra. The only upside in such an eventuality would be new leadership at the Society of St Vincent de Paul.