Ray Berbling: a life in struggle (1935-2015)

Ray was a dedicated Australian Marxist-Leninist and a lifelong friend of the the Soviet Union.

Ray addressing the third congress of the International Council for Friendship and Solidarity with the Soviet People, 2011.

The Australian and international working class lost a staunch champion on 29 October, when Comrade Ray Berbling passed away at the age of 80.

Ray had left the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) but retained good friendships, particularly with the Victorian branch. He had also been active in his union the Hospital Employees Federation No 2 Branch and held positions both locally and nationally.

He was vice chair of the Melbourne May Day committee, served as an executive committee member on the International Council for Friendship and Solidarity with the Soviet People (Northstar Compass) and was a member of the Cuba Society, Australian Friends of the Soviet Union, the Unitarian Peace Memorial Church, Asia Worker Links and many other progressive organisations.

Ray was a qualified psychiatric nurse, holding the position of Deputy Charge Nurse at Bundoora Repatriation hospital for many years. His book, Health Services in Crisis, outlined the problems of deinstitutionalisation (‘care in the community’) without adequate support systems, and he took on Roselyn Carter, the former US ‘first lady’, when she came to Australia to promote this policy. In the book, Ray wrote: “Approximately 400,000 persons have been displaced from the mental hospital system and the majority are wandering the streets.”

For years, Ray marched on May Day, until his health and legs gave out. He then sat at a table outside the Trades Hall on May Day selling the Northstar Compass, or the latest book from Harpal Brar or Grover Furr. Ray was merciless in debate with any Trotskyist or anarchist who drifted off course to his table.

Even in his final years in a retirement village, he set up a residents committee and they ran campaigns to improve the rights and conditions at the centre.

CPGB-ML Chairman Comrade Harpal Brar knew Comrade Ray well, and said in a letter to his comrades:

“I am much saddened, as are my party comrades, by the death of Comrade Ray Berbling. I had the good fortune of meeting him more than once and having him on our side in the struggle against opportunism in all its forms at various international conferences. He defended the principles of Marxism Leninism and proletarian internationalism, and the epoch-making achievements of the Great Socialist October Revolution, with tremendous passion and devotion – qualities for which he will be long remembered.

“I hope Ray’s comrades will have the strength to bear his loss with fortitude and turn their grief into a tower of strength in the struggle against imperialism and for the liberation of humanity from exploitation and oppression. This is the only fitting tribute Comrade Ray deserves; this is the only memorial for our departed comrade.

“Red salute to Comrade Ray!”