In the late 1960s, there was an explosion of radical activism on Australian university campuses. Monash was rocked by waves of student protests, mass meetings and occupations, over everything from the war in Vietnam to the funding of campus libraries.
The Monash Labor Club was an organising centre for radicals and revolutionaries of all traditions. There, Tess met Dave Nadel, who had been a supporter of Mao’s China, but was becoming critical of its authoritarian, dictatorial system.
“I basically went on that journey with him”, she remembers. “I arrived at the worldview that I still have today, which is anti-Stalinist: socialism is about human liberation.”
Along with Nadel, Tess began attending the regular mass meetings of Monash students, where politics would be debated and activist campaigns proposed. “They were frequent events. Sometimes there’d be a couple in a week.”
The two of them became increasingly concerned about the influence of the student Maoists. The Maoists’ support for the dictatorship in China undermined their claim to be supporters of human liberation. And their obsession with street fighting, conspiracy and public posturing meant that most students were sidelined from activities that the Maoists led.
Tess and Dave thought that they needed to form a group that would organise militant actions, but which also would draw in the mass of students – an organisation based on the politics of authentic revolutionary Marxism.
“Towards the end of 1971 we started thinking about setting up some kind of alternative political current on campus”, she remembers. “At the beginning of 1972 we set up the Revolutionary Communist club and produced a weekly broadsheet, Hard Lines.”