Last week, George Zangalis launched a book that documents his life’s work. Detailing the role of Greek Australians in their struggles for social justice and cultural rights, among which he was a main player, it’s not just his history, but the history of the Greek Australian left.
Much of the book is littered with George’s particular insights and opinions about the way events unfolded and the role that individuals played in those events.
I’m sure there are several noses out of joint around the Greek community and perhaps even in Neos Kosmos.
What interested me more than anything else, was the documenting of the thousands of Greek Australians who were active in their communities and political organisations – chief among them the Communist Party of Australia.
People gave time and energy to fighting for ideals that would build a better world, for peace on the international stage, for improved wages and conditions for working people, against fascism and for restoring democracy in Greece, for improved rights for women.
George cites an ASIO file which has him participating in a Women Against Rape march in the 1970s which left me wondering why taxpayers’ money was used to spy on Women protesting against rape. Is this something that threatened national security?
At the risk of sounding nostalgic, I couldn’t help but feel admiration for the commitment and energy that previous generations had for social justice. I wonder where it is today.
In my own extended family, I look around me and see my parents’ generation – all of them espoused a socialist view of the world, some more, some less red than others.
And then I look at my generation.
The vast majority of us have focused on our careers and making money, buying and building big houses, accumulating wealth and on consuming endlessly.
When we’re on our death bed, what will we look back and be proud of? The state of the art four wheel drive we had, the Prada shoes or the latest Plasma TV screen? Is this what our lives will amount to?
At the launch, talking to people like Denis Sikiotis, active in the campaign to restore democracy in Greece in the 1960s, his eyes light up when he speaks of all the campaigns he was involved in.
The desire to do something and make a difference still burns within him, to not just accept the status quo and half measures. To fight for what’s important, what’s right and what’s just.
These days, communism has a big image problem and is considered a dirty word, not entirely without some justification.
Let’s face it, some of the things done in its name were not exactly beacons of enlightenment: mass starvation of millions of Ukrainians, the show trials and gulags, the cultural revolution, suppression of independent unions, the Prague uprising etc.
But reading Zangalis’s book, I am reminded that communist or socialist ideals should not be discarded in the way they have been.
After all, capitalism hasn’t exactly got a great record either: massive inequality, poverty, environmental degradation, wars and now the biggest recession we’ve seen since the 1930s, but no one seems to be running away from that dirty word.
Now that the failures of capitalism are clear for all of us to see and world leaders are struggling to find a way out of the mess that’s been created, I would have thought that all of us, could take a deep breath and reassess our lives.
We can’t just keep leaving it to others to fight and struggle and do all the hard work – whether it was our parents’ generation, or union leaders or greenies.
It’s time we put ourselves in the frame and start to make a difference.
After the launch, a few of us went out for a drink. A discussion began about the way forward out of the mess that global capital has created.
“What are you doing about it?” someone asked a union leader who was with us.
“It’s not just up to me,” he pointed out to this young man. “It’s up to all of us. The question is, what are you doing?”