Australia's Anarchist History (to be spelt out in a forthcoming book).
At least as early as the 1840's the term 'anarchist' has been used as a slander by conservative spokespeople, e.g. against both Henry Parkes, and J.D. Lang, for their republican views by W.C. Wentworth. Writers of the time and later historians, often sympathetic to the positive side of anarchism have sometimes veered to the other extreme of seeing aboriginals, convict rebels, expansionist squatters, and working-class rebels as, at least, incipient anarchists. At certain periods of social 'crisis' (i.e. for the status quo) eg. that from which the present collection is taken, the media have used 'anarchist' and 'anarchism' indiscriminately and often, to boost sales or to blacken opponents of their benefactors.
One result of the many uses to which the term could be put was that contemporary references abound, this presumably being one measure of public awareness that the creed existed. The many attempts to slander anarchism or anarchists are also a measure of the danger to vested interests it was perceived as representing.
The first anarchists organisation in Australia was the Melbourne Anarchist Club, established in 1886, almost at the same time as the Haymarket (Chicago) explosion occurred. Such was the deliberate and inevitable misrepresentation of this event, that it is doubtful if the Club would have been established, at least publicly, if the 'Haymarket affair' had occurred a fortnight earlier.
The Club was the most important offshoot of the Australasian Secular Association begun and energised in Melbourne by Joseph Symes, largely through 'the Liberator'. Many radicals grew through the free-thought movement and the Andrades, for example, were early staunch supporters of the dynamic Symes, until they perceived the need to widen the range of atheism's critiques (See 'What is Anarchy?) At once, the ASA split into hostile camps and years of vituperation followed which damaged both group's credibility.
Influenced by the mainstream individualist trend, which came to Australia largely via Benjamin Tucker's 'Liberty' and his translation of Proudhon's works, Melbourne's anarchists moved through an initial stage of generalised anti-authoritarianism to (most clearly - there were numerous differences of opinion within the group) enunciate akin to what is today labelled 'anarcho-capitalism.' They insisted they were socialists, while retaining the notion of private property to cover the worker's right to his/her own product. This they regarded as inviolate, but sophistication produced development and opposition, both attended by Club splits.
The Club's first major split was in mid-1888, when seceders left because of a uniquely Australian version of individualist-anarchism, articulated mainly by David Andrade, as had been the earlier position, and based on the use of labour notes measured in time units not in labor product units. This group was thus in conflict with a 'Brookhouse-group' which retained the Tucker- model.
They were both eventually opposed by a communist anarchist group, Jack Andrews in particular, which insisted on commonality of produce-ownership and thus access to society's goods on the basis of need. This difference was the context of the second split in late 1888-89, which marked the virtual end of the Club, though meetings continued sporadically till 1896.
The communist-anarchist group largely shifted to New South Wales, the individualists remaining in Melbourne, though many dropped out of sight at this point. Two significant figures in Melbourne radicalism, 'Chummy' Fleming and John White belonged to neither tendency definitely but tended to the communist side.
Outside the two cities of Sydney and Melbourne, information about anarchists is less visible, the definitional lines are more blurred and 'anarchism' is most easily identified by the status-quo newspapers with worker-outrage, while workers' newspapers spend vast numbers of column inches discussing co-operation, mateship and democracy without always using the label anarchism.
David Andrade insisted on maintaining a public stance, widening his sphere of interests and setting an example of self-reliance and grass-roots activism. He developed a detailed scheme to put many thousands of persons on the land in co-operative villages, and in 1894 he left Melbourne for the Dandenongs to put theory into practice. Unfortunately the family were burnt out in 1895 and though he continued to maintain a semblance of hopeful struggle for a couple of years, he gradually declined physically and mentally and spent his last 25 years in 'a home'.
'Chummy' Fleming continued his struggle for Melbourne's unemployed alongside John White and others, against the Trades Hall Council, labor politicians and technological change.
'Chummy' took as vehicle, for the period here covered, for his regular public speaking, the single-tax and free-trade movement. Later in the nineties he became heroically, obstinately anarchist, living out his political life as the anarchist presence in May Day marches and on the Yarra Bank and his physical life in extreme penury.
John White preceded him to the grave, believing in the message but doubting the capacity of the masses to benefit from the theory's wisdom. (I have no writings for either White or Fleming in this collection).
Robert Beattie, H.E. Bach, Larry Petrie, and a number of non-English speakers became part of a loosely organised network of propagandists, in all States (except perhaps Tasmania) roughly centred on the Schellenberg farm at Smithfield, just out of Sydney. This group held anarchist 'conferences', (attended I believe by a large number of the Sydney labor activists, eg. Rosa, MacNamara, Batho, Holman, etc. and on at least one occasion by an overseas organiser); printed and distributed many thousands of handbills, newsletters and books, and seeded numerous oppositional groups to the prevailing regime. One such group was the Active Service Brigade, and another into which a lot of effort was put in its early stages was what is now called the ALP.(ie the Australian Labor Party.)
Because of the largely 'invisible' nature of women, and the lack of public discussion of personal relations, the position of Rose Summerfield, Rose de Boheme (Mrs A.J. Rose-Soley) Creo Stanley and Alice Win is problematic, though I am sure significant.
The Sydney groups took the brunt of repressive legislation and jaundiced legality, culminating in 1893-1895 with the 'Hard Cash', 'Justice' and Andrews trials, all for sedition, libel or for being likely to endanger public order. There were, during the period 1890-95, numerous 'strike-leaders' jailed and the position of the philosophy of anarchism and of individual anarchists is also significant in these 'class-war' acts.
Since the masses didn't rise either for the labour movement or for anarchism, and since 'New Australia', William Lane's anarchist scheme involving hundreds of people split almost as soon as it arrived in South America, optimism gave way to mere doggedness or despair.
The End of the Dream:
Disillusion about the likelihood of rapid social change set in quickly. Large scale struggles against capital had virtually ceased, unionism was on the decline and talk of armed uprising had all but disappeared by the end of 1895. Andrews renounced mass propaganda work; Desmond had left the country; the Lane mystique was effectively eroded by the South American 'failure', though Petrie, Beattie, Summerfield, and Ernie Lane, were still to reach 'New Australia'; the Socialists were thinking of leaving the Labor Party for a more principled and militant organisation and the Village Settlement panacea was hardly discussed. 'Single- tax', (i.e., belief in a single-tax on the unimproved value of land to replace all present state interferences with economic life) as a movement had collapsed. Only the drive for women's suffrage was still increasing in momentum.
Some anarchists, like Fleming, White and Dwyer, who worked with the unemployed, the homeless and the system's other most visible victims, continued, year in and year out to agitate. It is as though the ones with the biggest hopes crashed soonest, while the steadier, more pragmatic ones bore the defeats and the slights more philosophically.
These few carried the notion of libertarianism, voluntary co-operation, mateship, self-management, call it what you like, on into the 20th century, but their legacy to their many unknown inheritors has yet to be recognised.
This collection of readings is from the period when Anarchism was most strongly identified with violence, mainly through media concentration on the activities of 'propagandists of the deed' in Europe. Ever since, proponents of the philosophy have had to struggle against the very negative image successfully created in most people's minds by their enemies. As will be seen from these writings 'Australian' anarchists did not necessarily disavow violence, but the part it plays in their philosophy was neither as simplistic nor as anti-life as claimed.
Many writers acknowledge the impact of the small group, mainly male, who brought fear to Northern Hemisphere holders of wealth and privilege from 1885 to approximately 1910, but the impact is usually seen as transitory. The acts themselves have been considered out of context when considered at all, and the individuals, labelled anarchists by most, have almost never been considered worthy of study as individuals, and never that I know of, as part of a broad, social movement, which had, and still has, insurrection as one of its options.
Australian anarchists have not been mentioned in such books, and in books about the Australian labour movement anarchists have rated little more than a mention in footnotes. (So far, no history of peoples' liberation movements, - which is a truer reflection of anarchism's interests than the labour movement, have been written) I believe this to be an inadequate representation for a number of reasons:
The anarchists failed to develop mass support because they failed to prevent themselves being identified simply with physical violence, their enemies thereby implying that physical violence was not systemic in the 'straight' world; that it only occurred when legally constituted authorities acted in clearly demarcated situations for the good of society as a whole which had given a mandate to those same authorities so to do.(None of this circular argument was the reality, of course, and anarchists' strongest argument was that they were for radical change precisely because the 'present' system was so permeated with violence) Secondly, anarchists failed to prevent themselves from accepting the black and white arguments of their enemies, as to the nature and significance of physical force. There were many permutations of force, some more final than others, and J.A. Andrews, for one, perhaps the best known anarchist at the time, felt that the spirituality (non-materialness) of life, needed to be accepted and assimilated in some way into the discussion. Still, in the materialist context alternatives to assassination and/or bombings were available, needed to be explored and would ultimately be more effective eg. immobilisation or neutralisation. These were rarely considered. Thirdly, the philosophy of co-operation as the antithesis of competition and voluntary co-operation as the antithesis of enforced co-operation or collectivisation failed to be effectively presented.
Those who actually carried out individual acts of aggressive self defence, in the belief that they were carrying out anarchist policy, were not in their actions characteristic of the philosophy which in its idealism is co-operative and pacifist, and in its theory rural-based or 'of the land'. Propaganda of the deed was promulgated as the appropriate strategy at a particular time, and later replaced with a different strategy. (Syndicalism or anarchist organisation of industrial workplaces is also in my view, strategic rather than fundamental philosophy.)
On the other hand the actualisers of the strategy were creatures of their time and cannot be disregarded whether politically aware or not. They were one result of newspaper concentration on violence in the labour-capital struggle, which itself resulted in a polarisation of reformers into the 'labour' camp. Together, these made adequate airing of differences in detail very difficult.
Demands by a strengthening union movement and the possibility of insurrection meant the powers of the capital- controlled State were called upon to protect the 'status-quo' under the guise of protecting 'law-and-order'.
Despite achieving the modification of some of the worst industrial excesses, the working-classes came to accept or not to question the tory view of organisation and of negotiation. Within the 10 years of this record, the struggle was removed from the streets to the cloisters of the Parliamentary system, and a few years later a conservative constitution was imposed via a conservative Federal Parliament.
In losing sight of, or conceding defeat in the struggle with capital, the masses acquiesced in their own powerlessness, 'voted' to continue the hierarchies of society and of the family, and turned away from the solution offered to them - co-operation.
Dozens of projects were actually tried, involving hundreds of people, the largest single attempt being 'New Australia' established by William Lane in Paraguay, in 1893.
Unfortunately, compounding other difficulties was a basic confusion in the theory itself, which made success virtually impossible.
The way to the dream (a peaceful, satisfying, co-operative society) and the dream itself had two variants and many people used the same words for both or failed to see the relevance of distinguishing the two before starting.
Words like 'the State' were sometimes used to indicate a particular group of people, with special power controlling the rest of the population, and sometimes used to indicate 'the people as a whole', thus words like 'the State' could be used by libertarians to indicate a benevolent, democratic situation, and sometimes a hierarchic, elitist, authoritarian situation. Similarly, the dream's achievement (less often discussed) was sometimes managed voluntarily, sometimes by proscription.
In saying that Australia's anarchists, with a few exceptions, failed to perceive these and other difficulties, I am not downgrading their contribution relative to their northern counterparts. In fact the weaknesses and the strengths in the two areas seem to parallel one another, as does the actual progress of the struggle.
Generally speaking the anarchists were on the labour side of the struggle, and acted as union organisers too. The non-communist anarchists (called 'individualists' by all but communist anarchists who saw themselves as the true individualists) spoke of voluntary co-operation as the goal but so emphasised formalised contact between producers as to appear not to be part of the anti-capital movement at all. David Andrade was contradictory on this as are the anarcho-capitalists of today, but Andrade insisted he was a socialist.
None of the self-avowed anarchists were ever convicted for violence against property, person or the State, although Petrie languished in jail for 5 months in connection with the 'Aramac' explosion. Some of the fired wool sheds, fences or attempts to derail trains or kidnap 'scabs', or skirmishes with troopers sent to protect 'scabs' may prove to be the work of politically aware revolutionaries, as opposed to enraged unionists or frustrated 'travellers'. There is evidence that the correlation of direct action with anarchism reached well into the country areas via the travelling propagandists, newspapers and union networks. On the other hand, arming for self-defence and retaliatory measures against the bosses' were seen by many as simple commonsense.
The point at which the State supported the employers' conspiracies with troops and special constables is the point at which the methods of the propagandists proved inadequate, and defeat in this struggle is the major reason the co-operative movement failed. There are a number of elements:
Firstly they were unable to counter the message of the establishment media, and this has to do with the state of Australian society of the time. Secondly, they were unable to provide personal examples of living, harmonious communities able to provide protection from the State and able to provide physical and emotional support for one another when crisis threatened. This has to do with the speed of events, the lack of experience of the stresses involved and with the gaps in the theory as then understood (see below). Thirdly, the State and its supporters had far too many resources and key people could be picked off easily and the rest cowed with military might. Fourthly, the mood of the large body of reformists rarely reached the pitch of passion which in Europe (France e.g.) produced sparks capable of burning down regimes. The labour spokespeople on the whole were publically concerned to argue their case logically, reasonably and thus prove more worthy because more clearly correct than the 'unscrupulous' opposition who used force in lieu of argument and indulged in conspiracies because they were devious. The mass of workers were concerned with rights and believed 'legal' means would be sufficient. Thus they tended to Parliamentarism and State Socialism.
So strong was the 'status-quo' that public militants could be labelled 'anarchists,' the philosophy trivialised and discounted, and the distorted image used against all reformers via legal action against the very people the process originally appeared to disregard as 'wild agitators of no consequence'. Along the way to scape-goating of the anarchists for alleged secret Plans to overthrow the Government, the capitalist conspirators introduced special powers and special constables to link the civilian world to the military, now used in its domestic control function.
This said, it is true that there were revolutionary conspiracies at the time and that the conspirators were either anarchists or believed themselves to be. Since their records were informal, if kept at all, the principal sources for speculation about these are Andrews' historical items, some of which are fictionalised accounts.
Vaguely perceived, though it provided the real reason for the struggle for change and the use of the State apparatus by vested interests to stop that struggle being effective, was the economic crisis. The cyclical downturn of capitalism, producing under-utilisation of productive resources (i.e. unemployment) meant the labour force being coerced into receiving less for their efforts, rather than shareholders going short. There was no principle involved on the shareholders' side, it was a simple case of 'You go short, rather than me'. Completing this episode of the 'class war', was the land boom, especially in Melbourne and in Queensland where the Club of Banks, Cabinet and Employers were fighting for the prizes involved in railway construction throughout the State.
Thus not only was the State apparatus engaged in preventing the 'agitators' from spurring the masses to strike for better conditions, (or even becoming their own employers) but the exercise was also designed to prevent the workers from demanding their money back from banks which had overextended on rapacious and ill judged speculations, and to prevent the perpetrators of these schemes being tried (under the status quo's own value system) for fraud, incompetence and highway robbery. The exercise was lastly designed to prevent the workers electing to office (again under the status quo's own rules) labor representatives even to the point of achieving parity with the representatives of capital.
A fifth reason can therefore be adduced for the failure of the agitators' in general for a cooperative commonwealth, and of the 'communist-anarchists' in particular; the task was too large, complex, difficult to put into easily understood words, and not entirely understood by them at the time that they were called upon to think on their feet. Two major philosophy deficiencies were significant factors in the personal and movement failures of the last century.
The first is in personal relations, the second is in food and energy self-sufficiency.
In the first area I include not only men/women and sexual/love relations, but also conditions of other groups and races. The radicalism of the agitators was rarely fully developed and few saw prostitutes, unemployed, kanakas or chinamen as victims of the same process which threatened them. Some called for equal treatment, rights and responsibilities of women but in practice the strongly held notion of the working man as honest, upright and the breadwinner meant that women's unionism and suffrage let along women's liberation was secondary to agitation for men. Anarchists and the more radical socialists, by definition, were the few who perceived the need for political reform to involve personal politics but it achieved little expression, D.A. Andrade, J.W. Fleming and other males tried. William Lane, espousing communism and mateship, believed in permanent monogamous marriage and clearly had no idea of the economic position of the family or women. Robert Beattie suggested that prostitutes form co-operatives to escape their degrading life in order to marry a 'respectable' man.
Although one or two suggestions appear on behalf of 'free love' or mutual making and breaking of 'marriage' vows (see Alice Win's contribution) most radicals saw marriage as necessary to procreation, as permanent and as necessary to ensure the woman's welfare. On the other hand Larry Petrie, Schellenberg, Andrews, Fleming, Beattie and Desmond appear not to have married, but whether because of choice, and satisfactory involvement in non-marital relationships, is not yet clear. Radical socialists (not anarchists) often agreed anarchism was the goal to aim for but that people were not yet sufficiently highly evolved; yet they believed that socialist marriage was a contract bound to produce harmony because it was between two honest, upright, brave and clear thinking people. Similarly kanakas and aboriginals were to be excluded from white society because they weren't up to the personal standards of cleanliness, independence and honesty set by the typical white Australian male.
The second area in which 19th century anarchist logic was insufficiently developed was in regard to energy usage, the environment and self-reliance. It was almost an axiom among the radical labour people that production should be for use, not profit, and that land, if held should be used, not left merely fallow for speculative purposes. The notions of independent yeoman farmers and decentralised village settlements were strong and widespread and agitation from many sources produced legislation in New Zealand and most of the Australian States in 1892-94 supposedly aiming to put families and single people 'onto the land', or into small towns. Many did not wait for State assistance but tried it on their own. But the natural environment, when seen as an organic unit was nevertheless a resource to be exploited, not conserved.
The relationship between self-sufficiency and total reform of the social structure does not appear to have been spelt out. The communists, saw the land clearly as the basis of all wealth, but had not analysed the parasitism of cities as a necessary part of industrialisation. Most co-operators saw a share in a village settlement scheme as a haven from want or as a secure base for a nuclear family, from which fresh assaults could be launched on the citadels of power and privilege. I think the idea of a connection between total revolution and providing for one's own basic needs was perceived by Andrews as even more radical than putting up barricades in the streets. Also, of course, supermarkets, TV dinners and plastic food were not quite so ubiquitous as today.
The failure of these 'land reform' schemes (of all kinds) to achieve long lasting escape from 'the System' must be admitted and seen as resulting from a lack of preparation - in gardening, farming, construction skills and in personal relation skills, principally conflict resolution. Excessive materialism and belief in science prevented creative problem-solving, while feelings of personal powerlessness remained largely unconfronted.
Voluntary co-operation was discussed at length and attempted by many thousands of people during the period under discussion, but it is not clear whether they knew they were involved in anarchist endeavours or not. Some obviously did, but didn't say so publically, some did not and would have angrily denied the label. To most it was irrelevant, as it was unnecessary to spell out details which were everyday elements of the lives of the participants. So, the absence from the literature of a discussion of non-hierarchical organisation and the value of direct democracy over representative democracy may be a philosophic deficiency or it may not. The failure of William Lane to realise the corrupting nature of leadership is probably indicative.
Now in 1979, as perceptions of the need for more awareness and more preparation, in the areas of one's own conditioning, and one's relationship with the natural world and with people who are close, becomes more widespread, the big dreams seem to have been forgotten entirely. The large-scale consciousness of how the parts fit together has faded.
It is to alter this situation and to aid the detailed preparation for a self-managed society that this collection of readings has been published.