Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Paul Freeman (1884–1921)

by Frank Farrell

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Paul Freeman (1884?-1921), deportee and Comintern functionary, was probably born in Germany but registered as an American citizen in 1916. After working as a miner in Pennsylvania and Nevada, United States of America, he arrived in New South Wales in 1911 and found work at Broken Hill. There he joined the Marxist Australian Socialist Party but later advocated the activist anarcho-syndicalist doctrines of the 'Chicago' Industrial Workers of the World. He campaigned against the conscription referenda of 1916 and 1917. After the proscribing of the I.W.W. in 1917 Freeman worked in a copper mine at Cloncurry, Queensland, and later became a prospector. He continued to propagate anti-war views and eventually attracted attention from Commonwealth and police authorities.

On 8 January 1919 Freeman was arrested outside Cloncurry under the War Precautions Act, was sent to Sydney, put aboard the Sonoma and deported to America. On reaching San Francisco he was refused admission to that country. After crossing the Pacific four times he began a hunger strike and when the Sonoma next berthed in Sydney his plight aroused the sympathy of many members of the labour movement. An angry crowd estimated at over 10,000 tried to board the ship to force his release; his case was also taken up by the Labor Council of New South Wales and the Australian Workers' Union. A second large demonstration led the government to remove Freeman from the Sonoma. The acting prime minister, W. A. Watt, disclosed 'that Freeman refused to naturalise in Australia … was an advocate of I.W.W. doctrines, and had made a statement to the effect that anyone going to the war was lower than a dog'. Despite protests he was deported to Germany in October 1919.

Freeman entered the Soviet Union on 30 April 1920 and visited Petrograd (Leningrad), Kiev and Murmansk. Converted to Soviet Communism, he unsuccessfully sought to represent the Australian I.W.W. at the second congress of the Communist International (Comintern); he was later a candidate for the executive committee of the Communist International at its third congress in Moscow in 1921.

In late 1920 Freeman was sent on a secret mission to Australia where he conducted propaganda for the first congress of the Red International of Labor Unions, held in Moscow in July 1921. He failed to bring together the feuding factions of the newly formed Communist Party of Australia. He arrived back in Moscow in time to attend the third Comintern congress but died of injuries sustained in the crash of an experimental monorail train on 24 July 1921. Freeman was travelling with his friend the prominent 'Commissar Artem'; they were buried in a common grave by the Kremlin wall.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Davidson, The Communist Party of Australia (Stanford, California, 1969)
  • B. Walker, Solidarity Forever (Melb, 1972)
  • F. Farrell, International Socialism and Australian Labour (Syd, 1981)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1919 p 10022, 10328, 10491, 10661
  • International Communist, 28 May, 4, 11 June, 1 Oct 1921
  • Australian Worker, 5, 12 June, 17 July, 25 Sept, 9, 16 Oct 1919
  • Worker's Weekly, 30 July 1926
  • Tribune (Melbourne), 27 Mar, 3 Apr 1963
  • PM's correspondence files, item 1919/2012 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Frank Farrell, 'Freeman, Paul (1884–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




24 July, 1921 (aged ~ 37)
Moscow, Russia

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