Profile - Jack Ryan (1903-1954)

In 1930 Jack became the first member to be expelled from the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), for his refusal to endorse the party’s New Line. Prior to this, Jack had enjoyed a strong position in the party. As the butchers’ union delegate to the NSW Trades and Labor Council, he received a personal invitation to join the CPA by Central Committee Executive Jack Kavanagh. He became editor of the Labor Monthly and Pan Pacific Worker and represented the Trades and Labor Council in China, the Soviet Union and India. 

Jack wasn’t afraid to express his honest assessment of overseas communist leaders. Whilst he was glowing in his appraisal of Bukharin, he was unimpressed by many other prominent communist leaders, including Stalin, and was not supportive of the communist New Line.  

Ryan married fellow communist and activist Edna Nelson in 1929. That same year a directive from the Commintern put both in a difficult position. The he CPA was to stand candidates against the ALP in the federal election, and in the absence of a communist candidate, CPA members were to vote informal. Jack did not support this and was and neither did CPA Chairman Jack Kavanagh. However, Kavanagh and his allies lost support, and a rival group led by Bert Moxon, took control of the Central Executive. When Jack refused to declare his support for the New Line he sensationally expelled from the party in February 1930.  

Jack tried three times to be readmitted to the CPA, but by late 1932 he admitted defeat. The Depression had seen his work with the Labor Research Bureau end and faced with unemployment, he returned to the butcher’s trade, leasing a butcher’s shop in Sydney’s Woollahra.  

In 1935 Jack joined the ALP Waverley Branch. He was a natural in politics and it seemed likely he would run, but his Communist past was an issue that his Labor Party colleagues couldn’t look past and he failed to gain pre-selection.

By the end of the war, Jack and Edna Ryan had turned against communism and Jack recognised the threat that the CPA posed to the ALP. He opposed the communist influence in some trade unions and considered some CPA officials like Lance Sharkey and Ernie Thornton to be thugs.  

Jack never recovered from his expulsion from the CPA, and the stress and sense of loss resulted in serious health problems. He died in 1954 at the age of just 51.   



Ryan, L 2014, Caught Out: Edna and Jack Ryan and the 1951 Referendum, Inside Story, accessed <>

Webb, R 1997, Vale Edna Ryan (1904-1997): Feminist, Trade Unionist, Political Activist and Labour Historian, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, accessed <>


Jack Ryan, c. 1930s

Jack Ryan, c. 1930s