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Baracchi, Guido Carlo Luigi (1887–1975)

by Robin Gollan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Guido Carlo Luigi Baracchi (1887-1975), by unknown artist, 1970-75

Guido Carlo Luigi Baracchi (1887-1975), by unknown artist, 1970-75

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an8440944-2

Guido Carlo Luigi Baracchi (1887-1975), Marxist scholar and political activist, was born on 11 December 1887 at South Yarra, Melbourne, son of Pietro Baracchi, an astronomer from Italy, and his Victorian-born wife Kate, née Petty. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, in 1904-05 Guido studied classics at the University of Melbourne, but did not graduate. In 1913 he visited Europe where he became a guild socialist. Having returned home on the outbreak of World War I, he took a leading part in the anti-war movement. His written and spoken opinions produced a hostile reaction from the university authorities, and from some fellow students who dunked him in the university lake. In 1917 Baracchi helped to found the Victorian Labor College. Encouraged by Lesbia Harford, he joined the International Industrial Workers, successor to the banned Industrial Workers of the World, and edited its journal, Industrial Solidarity.

On 17 January 1918 Baracchi married an actress Kathleen Tobin in a civil ceremony in Melbourne. That year he was found guilty of 'making statements likely to prejudice recruiting' and 'attempting to cause disaffection among the civil population'. He was fined, and gaoled for three months for refusing to meet the conditions required by the court. In 1920 he was a foundation member of the Communist Party of Australia and co-edited—with Percy Laidler—the Proletarian Review (from October, the Proletarian).

Divorced in 1922, Baracchi went to Europe with a dress designer Harriett Elizabeth 'Neura', née Whiteaway, late Zander, whom he married on 29 March 1923 at the register office, St Giles, London. He belonged to the German communist party in Berlin and edited the English-language edition of the communist journal, International Press Correspondence. In 1924 he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. Back in Melbourne in 1925, he advocated the dissolution of the C.P.A. on the ground that it had too little support to survive: for this action, he was charged with 'right wing deviation' and expelled. Using some of the considerable wealth that he had inherited from his parents, he took his wife on a luxury tour of Asia. In 1926-29 he lectured in economics at the Victorian Labor College.

Confessing that his 1925 proposal had been a mistake, in 1932 Baracchi sought readmission to the Communist Party. He was refused, but was entrusted with some papers to be taken secretly to the Soviet Union. Accompanied by his de facto wife, the playwright Betty Roland, in 1933 he reached London and left for a twenty-one day visit to Leningrad and Moscow. The visit became a stay of more than a year during which they both worked, Guido as a translator in the Co-Operative Publishing Society for Foreign Workers and Betty as a journalist on the Moscow Daily News.

Returning to Australia with Betty in 1935, Guido regained party membership. They lived together in Melbourne for two years before moving to Sydney where Guido became co-editor of the Communist Review. Admirers of Walter Burley Griffin, they bought land and built a house (designed by Griffin's partner Eric Nicholls) at Castlecrag. In 1942 their relationship broke down and on 22 August 1946 at the courthouse, Manly, Guido married a divorcee Ula, née Gray, late Maddocks, a nurse.

In the meantime Baracchi had changed political direction. From the outset he had denounced World War II as an imperialist war, but for reasons different from those advanced by the C.P.A. leadership which had initially supported the struggle against Nazism. Baracchi was suspended from his party positions and required to answer ten questions about his political beliefs. He did so at great length, citing authorities such as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Approving reference to Trotsky, who was anathema to the Stalinist leadership of the party, was sufficient in itself to guarantee expulsion, which occurred in February 1940. He joined the small but eloquent group of Trotskyists in Sydney, speaking at their public meetings and contributing to their publications.

For the rest of his life Baracchi continued to study and advocate Marxist ideas with a Trotskyist slant. He joined the Australian Labor Party with the aim of influencing its policy in a socialist direction. In his party branch he advocated a more explicit socialist objective, workers' control in industry and, before it became popular, active opposition to Australia's involvement in the war in Vietnam. Following his divorce from his third wife, on 14 July 1962 in the registrar's office, Chatswood, he married another divorcee, the artist Ethel Victoria, late Carson, daughter of Karl Reginald Cramp.

As a wealthy man, Baracchi was an unusual figure in the bohemian artistic, and radical political, circles in which he moved. He was one of very few serious Australian students of the vast literature of Marxism at that time. Although he fancied himself as a poet, he was curiously blind to the fact that all but a fragment of his verse was little better than doggerel. He knew and corresponded with many leading writers, among them Katharine Susannah Prichard and Vance and Nettie Palmer.

While campaigning for the A.L.P. at Penrith, Baracchi collapsed and died on 13 December 1975; he was buried in Eastern Creek cemetery. Predeceased by his wife, he was survived by a daughter of his first marriage, by Betty Roland's daughter and by the daughter of another woman with whom he had shared a brief liaison.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Walker, Solidarity Forever (Melb, 1972)
  • B. Roland, The Eye of the Beholder (Syd, 1984)
  • B. Roland, An Improbable Life (Syd, 1989)
  • B. Roland, Caviar for Breakfast (Syd, 1989)
  • B. Roland, The Devious Being (Syd, 1990)
  • A. Turner, Independent Working Class Education in Australia 1917-1929 (M.Ed. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1981)
  • J. N. Rawling papers (Australian National University Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robin Gollan, 'Baracchi, Guido Carlo Luigi (1887–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baracchi-guido-carlo-luigi-9422/text16563, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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