Vale Bill Deller, a radical spirit

Issue 
Bill Deller was 'truly committed to the battle against capitalism'.

Bill Deller was a well-known left-wing activist in Melbourne and presenter on community radio station 3CR. He died on October 17. Below are remembrances of Bill’s life from some of his comrades.

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Lalitha Chelliah — radio co-host and a friend and comrade of 24 years

I met Bill Deller in 1990 when he employed me to work at the State Public Services Federation (SPSF).

He was a member of the Socialist Labour League. He had spent all his life except a few years being a total political being. He would advance class politics wherever and with whoever he could — he rarely missed an opportunity.

His non-sectarian style of working shone through as someone who was truly committed to the battle against capitalism.
He had worked in the mining industry in Perth, education, public service and the SPSF but finally he set himself the task of running a program on 3CR to inform people of what is really going on in the world. His program respected the intelligence of his listeners.

Humphrey McQueen — freelance journalist and political commentator

In political terms, Bill’s strength was in not being fixated on what the left was saying to the left.

His organising of public servants and then with farmers against the banks in the early 1990s made him immediately alert to the potential of enriching the left out of the Indi experience [in the federal election last year].

That openness to practice ran in line with his wish to learn more about where the world is headed in order to get life on track to socialism.

We often closed our 3CR sessions with a Phil Ochs song. In tribute to Bill’s memory I can think of nothing more apt than to play ‘I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here’. Bill did all that, and more.

Dr. Noah Bassil — Senior lecturer in political economy Macquarie University, Sydney

For three and half years I spent 30 minutes each week on air with Bill. In the fortnight since Bill’s sudden passing, I’ve felt a large loss and emptiness.

Bill left an indelible mark on me and I am going to pay my respects to him by relating why that 30 minutes became such an important part of my week, even when it was scheduled for 7:30am on a Saturday, and why Bill became such an important part of my life as well.

I first heard from Bill in the period of the mass protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Arab Spring had already seen the overthrow of the Tunisian dictator, mass protests were underway in Bahrain, in Yemen, in Egypt, and elsewhere in the region people were turning out in large numbers to demand change.

I had already given a number of interviews to commercial television and radio before I heard from Bill, and to be honest, as often is the case, I was left somewhat underwhelmed by the lack of knowledge of the interviewer or the scope of the questions asked about the events that were occurring.

Often, I really feel those interviews do little to advance a truer understanding of events, instead repackaging the interview in ways that perpetuate the myths or narratives that already exist about the Middle East and Arabs. However, from the moment I first spoke with Bill I knew he was different, and that his interview would be as well.

He was radically different. For one thing, he had read Marx and, more so, understood Marx. He understood that the events playing out in the Arab world were complicated historical struggles against imperialism, neoliberalism and dictatorships, which the bourgeoisie in countries like Egypt had tolerated because as a class they did not have the capacity to dominate society. Bill knew that Marx had used the idea of Bonapartism to describe a very similar set of circumstances in France in 1848.

It was the first time I had ever had that type of conversation with anyone in the media and it was exhilarating. For another three and a half years, we continued to converse about issues as varied as the Occupy Movement to Australia’s inhumane refugee policies. What we regularly found was that we tied those issues back to global capitalism, class struggle and the power of vested interests.

I believe Bill was a humanist, in the sense that he had conviction in the human capacity for critical reflection and in human agency. Bill believed in a world where there would be greater equity and less of the structural and systemic violence and discrimination characteristic of our contemporary condition.

Bill spoke against bigotry and racism towards our fellow humans, whether First Australians, refugees, Muslims, workers or those unfortunate enough to be on welfare, or for that matter, any other group targeted by the insults of the organic intellectuals of the vested interests. Rather, Bill was an organic intellectual of a movement for truth, for change, for hope.
Today his type of intellectual is the hardest kind of intellectual to be, and his courage and commitment in these trying times will be truly missed.

Vale Bill Deller, may we live up to your aspirations and make this world a better place.

Lynn Beaton — a long-time friend and comrade

In my first memory of Bill he is sitting at my kitchen table telling me that he had loved reading my recently published book, Shifting Horizons, about women in the British miner's strike. At the time few left-wing men could be bothered to read a book about women, let alone claim it as one of their favourites.

I repeat this because it is so typical of the way Bill was. He loved a book about ordinary people, moved by political conditions around them to do extraordinary things.

Over the years that followed we fought alongside each other in many struggles and discussed endlessly what we were doing, how we were doing it, how we should be doing it. We always tried to understand what we should be doing by understanding the world as it was unfolding around us and understanding the motion underlying events.

Bill became vice-president of the SPSF and extended a hand to farmers who were having their farms foreclosed by banks. He talked, before anyone else, of setting up a Red, Green and Black Alliance. He worked to establish a “Working People's Charter for Justice”, and we tried to build a broad left Progressive Labour Party. He helped build the massive peace movement of 2003 and to work on too many struggles to list. And in more recent years his work at 3CR is already legendary.

There were victories along the way, but there were more defeats. This was an era when the forces of reaction were on the rise and too strong for us to overcome.

I believe that if born in a different time, Bill would have been great leader, a household name around the world. In the time he was born he was limited by the conditions that favoured followers of fashion over advocates for change; obedience to the dominant ideology over the quest for truth; living the myth over understanding reality.

All of us who knew him saw great leadership in Bill; the inspiring orator, the man whose energy was in abundance, the one who ceaselessly looked for opportunities to advance and broaden the struggle, who made connections with a wide range of people but at the same time never lost his own political or moral compass.

The strength of his commitment, the breadth of his vision, the power of his mind with his courage and incorruptibility were a powerful mix. We, as a movement are all the weaker for losing him, but the stronger for having had him. As an individual I will miss him enormously because, when he applied his mighty skills to friendship, he was a mighty friend to have.

Bill would agree with Joe Hill, who said: “Do not mourn for me — organise”.

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