A Murdoch man turns to Trotsky
ALEX Mitchell began his journalistic career as a cadet reporter on the Townsville Daily Bulletin. After working at the Mount Isa Mail, Mitchell joined Rupert Murdoch’s tearaway tabloid The Daily Mirror, first in Sydney and then in the Canberra press gallery in 1964. This was a time when competition with rival The Sun, owned by the Fairfax family, was at its fiercest.
As this insightful and racy memoir makes clear, not only was Murdoch a hands-on proprietor but he was, for a time, quite radical and reformist in his views – promulgated in The Daily Mirror – about apartheid South Africa and in some ways about the parlous situation of Aborigines in Australia.
Armed with a flattering letter of support from Murdoch, who had launched the first national daily, The Australian, in 1964, Mitchell arrived in England on the SS Oronsay in March 1967. He gained part-time work on the London Daily Mirror and then a full-time job at The Sunday Times.
In Fleet Street he became an investigative reporter, taking part in exposes of Soviet double agent Kim Philby; corrupt publisher Robert Maxwell (widely known as “the bouncing Czech”); L. Ron Hubbard’s so-called Church of Scientology; and international offshore funds swindler Bernie Cornfield. After The Sunday Times, Mitchell worked on Granada Television’s weekly program World in Action, where he was the first Western reporter to interview president Idi Amin, “the man who stole Uganda”, after his coup in January 1971.
In England, Mitchell was radicalised politically, becoming a militant Trotskyite. This meant Mitchell took to heart Karl Marx’s 1845 injunction: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”
Utterly disillusioned with the politics of the British Labour Party and social democratic parties elsewhere but also with the Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain, Mitchell became an avid follower of Leon Trotsky, who had been assassinated in Mexico in August 1940 on Stalin’s orders. Influenced by Gerry Healy, a pugnacious Marxist-Leninist theoretician and activist, Mitchell accepted Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution” and his notion of uncompromising internationalism.
Before long, Mitchell became affiliated with the Trotskyist Fourth International. Healy drummed into him the fundamental Leninist lesson: “Without revolutionary theory, no revolutionary party. Without a revolutionary party, no revolutionary action.”
Indeed, for 15 years, Mitchell worked as a reporter, then editor, of the daily newspaper of the militant Socialist Labour League, later the Workers Revolutionary Party, whose members included British actors Corin and Vanessa Redgrave. Workers Press and then News Line were radical papers of high quality. It was only after his hero, Healy, was expelled from the Workers Revolutionary Party, which imploded and split, that in 1986 Mitchell, with partner Judith White, returned to Sydney. He started work for the Fairfax-owned Sun-Herald, although this period is not covered in any detail.
Come the Revolution is, in the main, a compelling read. However, it is rather too long. Mitchell seems intent on including every last detail of his professional and personal life until his return to mainstream journalism in Australia.
For this reviewer at least, Mitchell’s memoirs may have been much better by half.
Review of Alex Mitchell, COME THE REVOLUTION, NewSouth Books, 536pp, $39.95
Review by Ross Fitzgerald, Sydney Morning Herald, January 28-29, 2012 SPECTRUM p 33.