MY FATHER’S SHADOW by Sandra Goldbloom Zurbo

Monash University Publishing, 2023

ISBN: 9781922979186

RRP: $32.99 (pb)

Reviewed by Keith Harvey

 

 

 

Adding to the canon of books by left-wingers and their children is My Father’s Shadow, a memoir written by the eldest daughter of Sam Goldbloom, Sandra. Goldbloom was well known as a ‘peace’ activist from 1959 when he became founding Secretary (and later Chair) of the Congress for International Cooperation and Disarmament (CICD). He died in 1999.

The memoir is largely a personal one and family one: a daughter remembering her father in particular but also reflecting on her family and herself. It contains little political history and is frustratingly written via snippets and anecdotes. Many of which are difficult to place in a timeline, a challenge for the reader trying to follow the story…

According to his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography online (written by Viet Nam war draft resister, Michael Hamel-Green), Goldbloom was:

  • From the late 1940s, a spokesperson for the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism, which campaigned against postwar Nazi immigration to Australia…
  • the Victorian Peace Council delegate to the World Peace Council conference in Helsinki in 1955
  • co-chair of the Melbourne Moratorium of 8 May 1970, a march of nearly 100,000 people in protest at Australian involvement in the Vietnam War
  • a long-standing member of the Australian Labor Party and its candidate for the Victorian seat of Latrobe in 1958

But he was more than this. The most pertinent political fact about Sam Goldbloom is revealed in the very first paragraph of his daughter’s memoir. Her father was, in addition those things listed above, “a secret member of the Communist Party of Australia, (and) a Soviet loyalist….”

In other words, his work in the ‘peace’ organisations that he participated in served to advance the interests of the Soviet Union, not peace. They were classic Soviet front organisations, whether or not all members were aware of this at the time. Publicly known as an ALP member (and standing as a Labor candidate), he was secretly a CPA member. He denied it at the time.

In her memoir, his daughter writes:

As for Dad, when it comes to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – the USSR – and its satellites, he is a fool for love. He will truck no criticism about any of the socialist states; he does not acknowledge the purges or the millions murdered, he will never acknowledge the antisemitism, though later, much later, he will describe Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost as a ‘breath of fresh air.’ Still, for most of his life, dad’s belief in the Soviet Union, in its form of socialism, remains devout in scope. With the demise of communism…his heart breaks…

He says little else about what that demise means to him, what it means about a lifetime of loyalty and belief demolished.

Even so, he will remain a socialist for the years of his life left to him,…

Sandra Goldbloom Zurbo also joined the Communist Party (spending some time of the Victorian State Committee) and was active in the ‘peace’ movement herself. The memoir is not clear as to when she first joined the CPA. Precise dates are often scarce in her account. But Zurbo says it was following a trip to Europe, which included a visit to Moscow for a World Peace Council Congress held in the Kremlin’s Palace of Congresses, when she was nineteen. Born in 1943, this would mean that she first joined the CPA in about 1962 (and rejoined again in 1972).

When she told her father of her decision to join the Communist Party, he told her, she says, in almost a whisper: “I’m a member myself. That’s our secret. You mustn’t say anything to anyone.”

The memoir reveals that Goldbloom Zurbo was interviewed by Hamel-Green in his research for the Dictionary of Biography entry. She says:

Although there is nothing he asks me or that I can tell him that isn’t in this book, I do enjoy hearing my responses out loud…Now I await with keen anticipation, the publication of the twentieth volume of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Surprisingly, the entry seems a little coy about Goldbloom’s CPA membership. Whereas his daughter is frank about his secret membership of the CPA (and there is other supporting evidence), the ADOB online entry puts the issue more obliquely:

Aligned also with the Communist Party of Australia, he was assumed by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) to be an undisclosed member.

The depth of her father’s commitment to the Soviet Union (rather than to peace) is revealed in an exchange of correspondence between father and daughter in 1968, the year that the Soviets brutally crushed the moderate Communism of the Czech Communist party, led by Alexander Dubcek. A turning point for many Communists (who must have missed the events of Hungary in 1956), Sandra describes the period before the Soviet invasion as “a moment of light and hope”.

Some weeks after Soviet troops crush the uprising, I receive an aerogram from Dad. He writes that he was a member of a delegation of peace workers, of Communist and Labor party members, clergy and other leftists, who travel to the Soviet Embassy to meet with the ambassador to protest the invasion. ‘It was the most Difficult thing I have ever had to do in my Political Life’, he writes. [capitalised letters in original text]

His daughter responded, and knowing that “his love of and belief in, the Soviet Union has never wavered” says that she knew how difficult that must have been for him: “All the more reason that I’m so moved that you took part. And proud.” His response was not what she expected:

Three weeks later, another aerogram. In this one he expresses his Deep Regret. He says that he was never more Sorry about anything he had done in his Political Life. He wishes he’d never been part of that delegation. NEVER…

His letter makes me sad beyond measure.

Sandra Goldbloom Zurbo’s memoir may work for many readers as a personal and family-oriented account of her relationship with her father, but it fails to satisfy as an account of her father’s political activities. In it she does attempt to unravel some mysteries about her father’s life, usually unsuccessfully. One chapter is entitled ‘Fantasia.”

But there are many questions both unasked and unanswered. There is virtually no detail of how his political activities were conducted. His daughter travelled with him to some conferences overseas, including as a 16-year-old student to a conference in Indonesia. At a dinner, she was invited to dance with then Indonesian president Sukarno. But there is no detail in the book about the matters discussed at these conferences.

Given that Goldbloom was a lifelong supporter of the Soviet Union, it is not clear whether he maintained his membership of the CPA – which began distancing itself from the Communist party of the Soviet Union after 1968 – or whether he transferred his allegiance to the hard-line and pro-Soviet Socialist Party of Australia. The reader is not told.

How Sam Goldbloom became Secretary of the CICD and the origins of this body are not to be found in this memoir (this was presumably not its intention). The answer to this question, however, can be found elsewhere. A very thorough Ph. D thesis Peace Activism in the Cold War: The Congress for International Cooperation & Disarmament, 1949-1970 by Laura Rovetto, Victoria University, published in February 2020 answers these and many other questions.

The World Peace Council, a Soviet front organisation, was established in 1949/50. An Australian arm of it – the Australian Peace Conference – was created in the same year on the initiative of the CPA. The CICD in turn grew out of a 1959 Melbourne Peace Conference. These movements were dominated by CPA members at the organisational level.

Rovetto’s thesis notes that the evidence shows that Sam Goldbloom ‘self-recruited’ himself as a member of the CPA in the early 1950s and gives solid evidence of his continuing Party membership. Little wonder then that he emerged as a key organisational figure in the CICD, presumably placed there on behalf of and reporting to the CPA.

Goldbloom held this position for many years until the turmoil surrounding the Viet Nam Moratorium protests saw the CPA’s control of the ‘antiwar’ movement challenged by younger, often radical student activists, including Maoists such as Albert Langer. Goldbloom was by this time in his late forties and he was replaced by a younger person on the initiative of the CPA, according to Rovetto’s research.

In 1990, Sam Goldbloom was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). His name appeared in the Australia Day Honours list (not The Queen’s Birthday list as stated in the memoir). Zurbo claims that Goldbloom was the “first person in Australia to be presented with an award for antiwar services. Whether or not this is an accurate statement, the official citation reads: for ‘Service to the community particularly through the peace movement.’

A street in the ACT is also named after him. The collapse of the USSR the year after his Australian award may have denied him the Order of Lenin, a dubious accolade that a close reading of his career and his lifelong attachment to Soviet communism would have amply justified.

 

Keith Harvey worked in the trade union movement for nearly 40 years and is a non-factional member of the ALP. His memoir Memoirs of a Cold War Warrior was published by Connor Court in 2021.