Tom Barker

Paul Freeman

Friday 25 February 2005, by Tom Barker

PAUL FREEMAN, KILLED AT KURSK, JULY, 1921

I have known Paul Freeman since August, 1916. I had just come out of prison, and was on a propaganda trip to the famous desert mining camp of Broken Hill. Paul, was, like myself, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, the most universal industrial organisation in the world. I have a lively recollection of a wild ride on the back of Paul’s motor cycle from the Broken Hill prison-where we were visiting an I.W.W. prisoner-to the cemetery to attend the funeral of another member who had died from injuries received in a mining accident. I little thought as I stood side by side with Paul by the graveside in a howling desert blizzard that we should meet again in a far country where an old corrupt autocracy was about to crash, and where Paul himself would rest among, and as a worthy associate of, mighty heroes of a revolutionary epoch, and beneath the walls of a wonderful ancient city. But so it is!

I do not know where Paul was born or when. In the I.W.W. we did not worry about these details. Only the Australian Government did that. In the cyclonic career of the Australian I.W.W. Paul played his part. After the savage sentences upon Glynn, Larkin, Reeve, and their other nine fellow workers came the outlawing of the organisation. Paul was then mining on his own claim in Queensland, but he was arrested in company with about seventy others.

Most of these men, including myself, after nearly a year in prison were deported to all the corners of the earth. Paul was a problem to the Government, as there was a doubt about his nationality. They deported him to the United States, but the administration of President Wilson returned him with thanks. Once again he was sent across the Pacific, and once again he was returned. His mine was sequestrated in the meantime.

The Australian Government was neither satisfied nor particular. They then decided that he was a German, although he did not speak a word of the language, and placed him aboard a prisoner transport and sent him to Germany as a war prisoner. On his arrival he spent some time there, and made many friends. He came on to Russia and attended the sessions of the Second Congress of the Third International. Here he modified his industrialist views and joined the Communist Party. Afterwards he returned illegally to Australia-a very long and dangerous journey over many countries-where he worked underground in the establishment of the Australian Communist Party. He then returned via Japan, Vladivostock, and Siberia to the Third Congress.

I met him in Moscow after five long years, and he was the same ardent spirit that I had known in Broken Hill. He confided to me in the sessions at the Doma Sozouov that he intended to stay for the future in Russia. We never thought of the dreadful catastrophe that was about to happen at Kursk which was to put an end to the usefulness of a brave, unselfish and generous proletarian.

Paul Freeman was one of that great army of the tireless, world-tramping, universal I.W.W. He passed from land to land and from continent to continent with as little care as some men cross the street. Down in the coal-bunkers of ships, passing frontiers secretly in the dead of night with the World Revolution ever foremost in his mind, ever guiding his footsteps. His death will be deplored in the deep levels of the mines of Broken Hill, and thousands of workers in the great Australian cities will stand in silence to honour his name. Out under the light of the constellation of the Southern cross, far out on the Western Plains, the lonely shepherd and the migratory worker will visualise the Kremlin Wall, the world-striding Freeman who sleeps beneath its shadow.

Paul Freeman was one of an army who were ejected from one continent to bestride other continents and leave behind them a fiery trail of work for their class. He will rest well in goodly company, as true a man as ever stood in shoe leather, one of the old guard of the hated, outlawed, deported I.W.W.’s of the Southern Hemisphere. Men with greater names, of world celebrity, may sleep beside him under the -Kremlin Wall, but they will never honour it one iota more than all that is mortal of Paul Freeman.

Tom Barker
Delegate Federation Obrera Regional Argentina (Communists). Federacion Obrera Regional Uruguaya. To Red Trade Union, Glasgow. Petrograd, 29th July, 1921, from The Worker, 27th August, 1921.