John Passant died on 5 April.
Born in 1953, he was radicalised while in high school by the movement against the Vietnam War. He joined the Tax Office in Canberra in 1979 and became an effective union activist.
John and his life partner Patricia Langenakker met through union work at the Tax Office. Both were soon organised socialists. John and Patricia were members of Socialist Alternative and its predecessors for more than 30 years.
They played prominent roles in many campaigns in Canberra against exploitation and oppression.
On leave from the Tax Office to do master’s degrees at Monash University in 1985 and 1986, they were active in student politics, the campaign against apartheid in South Africa and were among the leaders of an occupation over cuts to the university’s library.
Addressing a large rally against the invasion of Iraq in 1991, with his young son in his arms, John asked, “What about the fathers with children in Iraq?”
John was a founding member of Socialist Alternative in 1995.
Passionate and articulate, he motivated others to be involved in the struggle for a better world.
After a decade at the Tax Office John went on to teach tax law at the Australian National University from a Marxist perspective!
He returned to the Tax Office in 1998. When he finally left in 2008, he was the assistant commissioner responsible for international tax reform. He later taught at the University of Canberra, the University of Wollongong and again at the ANU.
John left Socialist Alternative in 2012 over the designation of Stalinist countries as state capitalist, which he regarded as a matter of programmatic principle, when the Revolutionary Socialist Party fused with the organisation. But his involvement with socialist politics did not decline.
At different times, John wrote for many left-wing publications, including the Battler, Socialist Alternative, Red Flag, Solidarity, Independent Australia and New Matilda as well as the Canberra Times. He made important contributions, in academic articles, to the political economy of taxation.
But he was also a poet, and published two collections. His political poems included “Oh, we can’t tax the rich” and “Welcome to barbed wire world”. Several more personal ones, from his second collection, Whose broken is this?, were set to music and performed on a CD with the same title by the duo The Awesome.
John had a substantial online presence, through his blog and social media. His last contribution to Twitter was a link to a recent Red Flag article about workers struggling to defend their health in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He remained committed to the cause of working-class self-emancipation to the end.
Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018, he remained politically engaged and close to his family.
John died in his sleep with Patricia at his side.
We celebrate John’s committed and productive life with Patricia, and their children Michael and Louise.