Bernie Rosen really was a man for the people.
He battled for the rights of the exploited and oppressed, from being a teenager before WWII, right to the very end of his life.
I have a collection of letters from Bernie, each in his increasingly spindly handwriting and each packed in a little envelope. Every letter is an encouragement to his comrades to carry on the struggle and advice on how we should do so.
In particular, Bernie kept reminding us about the importance of patient work in our local communities and about the importance of addressing the urgent bread-and-butter issues facing the ordinary folk: health, education and housing.
Bernie was also a staunch internationalist. He was one of many comrades of Jewish background who became passionate defenders of the rights of the occupied, oppressed and exiled Palestinian people.
In the socialist movement we meet many women and men who have given many years of commitment and activity to the struggle for justice and liberation.
Some give a couple of years, some give five, some give 10 and some give more.
All are appreciated for putting their hands to the wheel and we know only too well that the battle against the rule of the rich and powerful exhausts many spirits and breaks many bodies.
However, few comrades give an entire lifetime of commitment — as Bernie did.
Such comrades deserve great respect and have a treasured place in our hearts and in our collective memory.
Bernie's road to commitment began when, as a high school student, he listened to political speeches in Sydney's Domain. His interest in politics had been sparked earlier by a school teacher, Bob Small, who was a returned serviceman from World War I.
“He used to organise debates on a Friday afternoon,” Bernie said in an interview he did with another comrade in the Socialist Alliance, Sam Wainwright, now a socialist councillor in Fremantle City in WA. “In addition to that, he used to tell us about the horrors of war.”
Bernie joined the Communist Party when he was in the army in 1943. He pursued his commitment to justice and liberation even while he was stationed overseas in New Guinea and Bougainville.
Bernie battled on as a CPA member throughout the Cold War years, only leaving the party in 1970 in despair at chronic internal differences.
Disunity and division can weigh heavily on the spirit. But Bernie bounced back.
Since about 1991 he joined up with a new generation of comrades determined to regroup and reunite the left and later became one of the early members of the Socialist Alliance that was formed in 2001.
The road to uniting the left has never been a straight and easy one. I wish Bernie could have stayed around long enough to see more progress along this road.
I am confident more progress will come before long. Bernie won't be around to see this progress, but his comrades will hear his voice.
Comrade Bernie Rosen, we salute you.
[This is the address Peter Boyle gave at Bernie Rosen’s funeral in Sydney on April 5.]