Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Murray Horton

Obituary: Mollie Ostler 1918-2000

Source: http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/96/9obitu.htm
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Mollie Ostler actually died way back in May 2000, in Sydney, but we only learned of that, via personal correspondence, in early 2001. We had never met Mollie, nor spoken to her, but she had been a CAFCA – [Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotrearoa] – member for a number of years (until ill health and old age led her to move to Sydney in the late 90s, to join her daughter, Judy Henstock). She regularly wrote to CAFCA, and during the early 90s was an extremely generous donor to the CAFCA/ABC Organiser Account, which provides my income.

I am indebted to Judy, and to Lindy Nolan, my long standing Sydney friend and comrade, who provided the notes for this brief obituary; and also to Don Ross, of Whangarei.

Mollie Suckling was born in 1918. She became an accomplished pianist, and had been about to go overseas to study music on a scholarship when she met and married Alec Ostler, before WW II. She joined the former Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ), in which Alec was a leading figure. In the late 40s she was a founding member of the Christchurch Housewives’ Union, to promote women’s rights. It was one of the first women’s rights organisations in NZ, winning free childcare for working women, and baby feeding rooms in department stores in the 1950s. It battled for many women’s rights at work.

During the 1951 waterfront lockout (which is receiving much attention in this, its 50th anniversary year), she helped waterfront people and was one of the main organisers of support activities in Christchurch. Her only child, Judy, was born in the 1950s. “She applied Communist politics of serving the people to her work in her neighbourhood”. Mollie and Alec moved into a State house, always helped their neighbours, painting houses, digging gardens, laying concrete drives, helping people to move into their houses etc. They organised their neighbours to fight with local authorities, forcing them to open public parks, dairies and free kindergartens.

Mollie was an internationalist. During the darkest days of the Cold War she made people aware of McCarthyism, and tragedies such as the trial of the Rosenbergs in the US (which ended with the execution of both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, as “Soviet atomic spies”). She publicised the views of the Korean people who were fighting US imperialism, during the Korean War of 1950-53 (a war which hasn’t officially ended). “She opposed the demonisation of Stalin and Lenin which began in the Cold War” (which means that she and Alec sided with those in the CPNZ who backed China when the great ideological rift developed between the Soviet Union and China). She ran Christchurch’s former Co-op Bookshop.

In 1960 the family moved to Auckland, where Alec was editor of “People’s Voice”, the CPNZ’s former paper. She developed an organisation to buy local products; joined the Auckland Housewives’ Association; was involved in anti-apartheid and Maori rights movements, and the struggle against US imperialism during the 1960s & 70s Vietnam War. She set up the Fred Hollows Foundation in Auckland in her neighbourhood (she was a lifelong friend of the late Fred Hollows). She played piano for people in her community, in nursing homes and the like. Mollie ran the former Progressive Books, which was the CPNZ’s bookshop. “She lived by Mao Zedong’s statement of being ’a fish in a sea of people’’’. In the 1970s she went back to work, part time, in various office jobs.

She and Alec were in the thick of the extraordinarily turbulent Communist politics of the time – when China and the Soviet Union became sworn enemies, in the 1960s, the CPNZ backed China (the others formed the pro-Soviet Socialist Unity Party). But the Ostlers were amongst those who found themselves out in the cold when, in the late 1970s, the CPNZ dumped both China and its own national leadership, adopting Albania as its role model (that went through many twists and turns, leading to the demise of the CPNZ during the early 1990s’ “defeat of Communism”. It has now reinvented itself as the Socialist Workers Organisation, which has no foreign role models, and bears very little political resemblance to its predecessor).

Don Ross told us: “Mollie had given her lifetime to the Communist Party and all the varied campaigns that it was involved in, alongside her late partner Alec Ostler, and following their departure from the CPNZ due to political differences, established with others the Struggle journal of which Alec was the editor. ... Following Alec’s passing, Mollie assisted with the production of Struggle...”.

Alec Ostler died in 1990 and Mollie’s own health deteriorated, to the point where she ended up in a nursing home. In 1997 Mollie moved to Australia to be with her daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She became close to activists in the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), which continues to support China. She lived her final years in Sydney, dying of cancer in May 2000. “She was a very determined woman with a life devoted to the ordinary people of this world”.