Sunday, 1 July 2012

ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER: Memoir of a Sixties Revolutionary by MICHAEL HYDE

ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER: Memoir of a Sixties Revolutionary
The Vulgar Press, 2010, 272 pages, $32.95 (pb)

Review by Phil Shannon

"We were young, we felt invincible and we weren't about to budge", writes Michael Hyde of the student occupation of the Administration Building of Melbourne's Monash University which had banned him for life in 1969.   The occupation resulted in a beaten university board rescinding all penalties against all expelled radicals and the campaign they lead against the university's role in the Vietnam War.

Mass struggle wins, concludes Hyde in All Along the Watchtower, his spirited memoir of a "preacher's son" who had joined "the most notorious left-wing student organisation in Australia" - the Monash University Labor Club.  Hyde's political and sexual blossoming was stimulated at parties at his student household in Jasmine Street, Caulfield, where bisexuals, Trotskyist physics lecturers and Maoist student activists debated and prepared for confrontation with the war machine and the capitalist system that spawned it.

Hyde's political journey was intense, with the public burning of his draft registration card, defiance of the law to collect money for the Vietnamese resistance's National Liberation Front (NLF), protests at the US Consulate on July 4 (the day America ironically "celebrates its own independence from a colonial master"), the "eagerness and fear" of illegal paste-ups, the exhilarating mass Moratorium rallies, hair-raising chases in his Austin A40 which doubled as get-away car for draft resisters facing arrest, and cheeky 'Fill in a Falsie' anti-conscription campaigns where draft registration forms, available for public convenience at any Post Office, were filled out in the names of "such notables as Ringo Starr, Marilyn Monroe and Rosa Luxemburg, who all, strangely, had Australian addresses".

Taking on church (pro-war, revivalist preacher, Billy Graham), ASIO, police, magistrates and university vice-chancellors, however, came at a cost.  There were threatening visits by police Special Branch at 6 a.m., roughing up in a South Melbourne lock-up, concussion and a broken nose from a police baton, and staring down the barrel of a mystery gunman's rifle in his bedroom.

Hyde's militancy caught the eye of Australia's Maoists, the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) [CPA-ML], who labeled their parent party, the CPA, 'revisionist'.  A "vernacular translation of this term", says Hyde, going something like this: the CPA "call themselves communists but in theory and practice they're piss weak bastards who might as well be in the pay of capitalism".  Hyde's invitation-only membership of the CPA-ML rounded out his coming of political rage.

Hyde is unreflective of his choice of Maoist politics, unfairly dismissing as stifling moderates all those in the anti-war movement who disagreed with the tactical wisdom of smoke bombs and rocks through windows.  Yet, Hyde's actions, occupying the margins of ultra-leftism as they sometimes did, were not always unhelpful in, as he argues, shifting the anti-war debate to the left, and adding a log or two underneath the sixties cauldron.  Certainly, the rebel spirit of this young revolutionary, who regrets none of his radical past and concludes that "every single bit of it" was worth it, is fit for emulating.

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